Category Archives: Record Charts

Chart 5: I Am What I Am, Even If I Can’t Remember What

A couple of Facebook friends of mine both mentioned the record charts from this week in 1974 recently, so that naturally got me thinking about the spring of 1974 too.

It was the spring of eighth grade. I don’t remember many specifics about that year. I think I went on my first actual date with a girl around that time, and I know I watched baseball every chance I got. I had my own official scorebook, which I used mostly to score games on TV. In that book is the game in which Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home-run record, which happened 40 years ago this week. (I’d like to look at the book now, but I don’t know where it is. Last time I saw it was back in the 90s, in a box that was either just out of storage or on its way there.)

I’m not entirely sure what radio station I was listening to regularly. Probably WCFL in Chicago, where Larry Lujack was doing afternoons. The WCFL survey dated April 6, 1974, reveals a week as purely 70s as any you’d like to pick, with a Top 10 containing at least four half-novelties: “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Spiders and Snakes,” “Eres Tu,” and “The Lord’s Prayer”. One of the most reviled records of the 70s, “Seasons in the Sun,” sits at #11. (Do not revile “Hooked on a Feeling” or we’ll have to throw down.) The same Top 10 also contains a couple of songs that remained on the radio for years thereafter: “Bennie and the Jets” and “Jet.” Others fondly remembered, at least by me: “Rock On,” “T.S.O.P.,” “The Locomotion,” “Let It Ride,” and the Guess Who’s “Star Baby,” the world’s greatest fake CCR record.

It’s not an original observation of mine, but there was a Canadian invasion in 1974, with stars big and small scoring hits in the states. The Guess Who, Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, and Andy Kim would count among the big ones. Several among the small were on ‘CFL 40 years ago this week.

15. “Virginia”/Bill Amesbury (up from 20).  A rowdy hootenanny thing, “Virginia” was Amesbury’s only American hit amidst several he had in his native Canada. In the early 80s, Amesbury came out as a transsexual and goes by Barbara now.

25. “Last Kiss”/Wednesday (down from 16)More Canadians. “Last Kiss” was their version of the teenage death record written by Wayne Cochran and most famously recorded by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers.

27. “Simone”/Henry Gross (up from 32). Gross (who is not from Canada) was once a member of Sha-Na-Na, and he would become a household word (at least in my household) with “Shannon” in 1976. “Simone,” which didn’t make the Hot 100, is your garden variety 70s pop ballad, although every time Gross jumps into his high register, it’s like somebody’s being stabbed—maybe not him, but definitely the listener.

28. “I Am What I Am”/Lois Fletcher (up from 33). Yet another Canadian (who is not Academy Award-winning actress Louise Fletcher, as some Internet sites insist), she did time during the 60s in the folk group Back Porch Majority, which was intended as a farm team for the New Christy Minstrels to develop new talent. She doesn’t seem to have made it with the Minstrels, but she got her own record deal anyhow. “I Am What I Am” is likable enough, but at the same time it’s easy to hear why it didn’t become a smash.

39. “Tryin’ to Hold on to My Woman”/Lamont Dozier (down from 31). One-third of the great Holland-Dozier-Holland production and songwriting team at Motown and later Hot Wax, Lamont Dozier managed a couple of Top 40 hits as a singer. “Tryin’ to Hold on to My Woman” is a fine soul ballad that had risen to #15 on the Hot 100.

It is both surprising and not how much of the spring of 1974 I am unable to remember anymore. I suspect that without the music, Hank Aaron and streaking might be it.

Chart 5: Invasion

This is the day, 50 years ago, when the Beatles captured the top five positions on the Hot 100. As we’ve noted before, Billboard‘s chart tended to run behind the streets by a little bit—so let’s visit a local chart for the week of April 4, 1964, from WOKY in Milwaukee.

WOKY has the same top two as Billboard, but in a different order: “Twist and Shout” is #1 in Milwaukee and “Can’t Buy Me Love” is #2. Other Beatle hits were starting to cool on WOKY: Billboard‘s #3, “She Loves You,”dropped to #7; “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Billboard‘s #4, was down to #13; “Please Please Me,” Billboard‘s #5, fell to #19. Two other Beatle hits, also on the Hot 100, were on WOKY: “Do You Want to Know a Secret” (#9 at WOKY, #46 in Billboard) and  “All My Loving,” which made its debut on the WOKY chart at #31—it was at #58 in Billboard.

Other British invaders storming Milwaukee included the Dave Clark Five, the Searchers, and the Swinging Blue Jeans. Apart from all the Brits, however, the chart’s a bit thin on enduring classics: the Beach Boys’ “Fun Fun Fun” is there (#16), as is Betty Everett’s “The Shoop Shoop Song” (#14). Louis Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” (#3), which will briefly break the Beatles’ dominance of the #1 position in Billboard, is on its way up, although it’s more oddity than classic today. Two big stars of the moment, Brenda Lee and Elvis, are on with double-sided hits, although none of the four songs is particularly memorable. Terry Stafford does Elvis better than Elvis with “Suspicion” (#4).

Here are five others that catch my eye and/or ear:

6. “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down”/Serendipity Singers (up from 7). One of the casualties of the British Invasion was the folk boom, although the demise of this nine-member group from Colorado was no great loss. To quote some Internet hack, “‘Don’t Let the Rain Come Down’ sounds like something a group of middle-aged middle-school teachers might do to sublimate an unmet desire to get laid.”

12. “White on White”/Danny Williams (up from 20). A South African pop crooner, Danny Williams was modestly popular in the UK until the beat groups went big. Early in ’63 he went on one of those big package tours that included the not-yet-famous Beatles, and was billed well above them. “White on White” is dang sappy, but not terrible.

15. “Little Boxes”/Pete Seeger (up from 18). You may have learned “Little Boxes” at church camp or Bible school, or maybe when it was the theme song to the early seasons of Weeds. It was Seeger’s lone charting single, reaching #70 on the Hot 100. (A half-century later, it still rings true.)

24. “Understand Your Man”/Johnny Cash (down from 17). I’m currently reading Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash: The Life, and I can’t recommend it enough. “Understand Your Man” was written at a time when Cash’s marriage to Vivian Liberto was coming apart (although the couple would not divorce until 1966), and its bitter lyric is aimed—unjustly, it seems to me—at her.

27. “Shangri-La”/Robert Maxwell (up from 34). Providing an adult antidote to all that kiddie music, “Shangri-La” opens and closes with a big ol’ harp flourish played by Maxwell himself, who was a composer, conductor, and arranger in addition to a harpist. But the song is mostly powered by an enormous orchestra riff and a lascivious saxophone that skates the line between cheesy and awesome. It was heard—anachronistically—in the first episode of Mad Men, which was set in 1960.

Folkies, crooners, and big orchestras weren’t the only artists swept away by the British Invasion. Chubby Checker and Chuck Berry, both on WOKY 50 years ago this week, got swamped too. And we are, to a certain extent, still living in the musical world that was just then being born.

Been Too Long on the Road

Twenty years ago, unemployed and looking for a gig, I was hired by a company that offered seminars for kids getting ready to take their ACTs, one of the two major college-entrance exams, a seasonal job I did for most of the next four years. Then I took a few years off, and did it again for three years in the early aughts. And now I’m doing it again. It’s the most agreeable job I’ve ever had, but the best part is the travel. I have always enjoyed car time with music on, and this job offers plenty of that. When I’m not teaching, I can go exploring: on some of my trips in the 90s, I’d visit Civil War sites; now my trips involve looking for breweries and beer bars. I can look up old friends (which I did this week), do other work during my hotel hangouts, or just vegetate with the laptop. The trip I’m wrapping up today spanned Friday to Friday, seven nights, which is about as long as trips get anymore—and about as long as I want to be gone. The other morning, as I walked down the hall to the hotel breakfast, I was briefly unable to remember what town I was in, which is usually a sign that it’s getting time to go home.

I travel with a database of the Billboard charts from 1954 to 2004. (But doesn’t everybody?) The other morning I started poking through it looking for “road” songs, and here’s some of what I found.

The most successful “road” song of all time is probably “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men, which did 13 weeks at #1 in 1992. “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles was also #1 in 1970, and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John went to #2 in 1973. (“Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver belongs on here too, although I searched for “road” and not “roads,” otherwise this post would have run 1,000 words.) “The Valley Road” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range was a Top-10 hit in 1988; John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down the Road” hit the Top 10 in 1985, and “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson did the same trick in 1980. Charting further down, there was “Middle of the Road” by the Pretenders as 1983 turned to 1984, Barry Manilow’s “Somewhere Down the Road” in 1982, and the Eagles’ final single, “Seven Bridges Road,” which spanned 1980 and 1981.

The last “road” song of the 70s was “Bright Side of the Road” by Van Morrison, which bubbled under the Hot 100 late in 1979. Then it’s back to “Ease on Down the Road” by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson (from The Wiz) in 1978, which had charted three years before by a group calling itself Consumer Rapport. The Stampeders’ weird cover of “Hit the Road Jack,” featuring a cameo by Wolfman Jack, charted in 1976. A group called the Road Apples scored a modest Top-40 hit in the fall of 1975 with “Let’s Live Together.” Similarly honorable mention goes to the group Gunhill Road (“Back When My Hair Was Short”) and to Al Wilson and Climax, who released their 70s hits, including “Show and Tell” and “Precious and Few,’” on the Rocky Road label.

In 1973, a group called Uncle Dog briefly charted with “River Road,” goodtime English blooze with a male/female duet lead. In ’72, the Hollies did “Long Dark Road,” soul singer Solomon Burke scored with the burnin’ “Love’s Street and Fool’s Road,” and the husband-and-wife duo of Terry Black and Laurel Ward scraped into the Hot 100 with “Goin’ Down (On the Road to L.A.).” Freda Payne looks to have done two weeks at #100 with “The Road We Didn’t Take” in January.

The Beach Boys closed 1971 with ‘”Long Promised Road,” a few months after Brewer and Shipley’s “Tarkio Road” and Mark Lindsay’s “Been Too Long on the Road,” which was #98 for a single week.  James Taylor hit in ’71 with “Country Road,” but Merry Clayton bubbled under with it first, and did it better, on her album Gimme Shelter. The year 1970 saw a lot of road songs: “The Long and Winding Road,” “Farther on Down the Road” by Joe Simon, “”Long Lonesome Road” by the Shocking Blue, and “End of Our Road” by Marvin Gaye, the first song ever played on American Top 40. And Jamul, a band we met during our series on one-hit wonders to peak in the 90s, hit with “Tobacco Road.”

To keep this post from going on any longer than it already has, I’m not going to dig into the 60s or the 50s. But because a blog is a content monster demanding to be fed, I probably will someday. After I get home.

Stay Right Here Cuz These Are the Good Old Days

On Friday we started listening to the American Top 40 show from February 26, 1972, and we left off in the middle. Here’s the rest.

19. “Anticipation”/Carly Simon. I like this much better now than I did in 1972, when I had no way to understand what Carly was singing about.

17. “Day After Day”/Badfinger and 16. “My World”/Bee Gees. Dang, there were a lot of pretty records on the radio back then.

Before playing “Day After Day” Casey answers a trivia question: which song debuted the highest on the Hot 100 but never got any higher than its debut position? Turns out it was a 1957 record by the Mello-Tones called “Rosie Lee,” which came on at #24 and immediately started down. (Surely the mark has been broken since, but I don’t know.) Before playing “My World,” Casey remarks that AT40 is heard in “15 foreign cities” and on over 350 Armed Forces Radio Network outlets. Not bad for a show about 18 months old.

The extra that closes out the second hour is “You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor, and it includes a story about Taylor’s prize pig Mona, which won ribbons at a show on Martha’s Vineyard. This seemed so absurd that I had to look into it, but sure enough, it really happened—and in 2013, a tragic dimension of the story was revealed.

14. “Bang a Gong”/T. Rex and 13. “Heart of Gold”/Neil Young. Casey reports on a T. Rex concert that sent 33 crazed fans to the hospital and suggests that T. Rex mania is reaching Beatles/Stones proportions in England. Meanwhile back at home, I was buying another T. Rex single, having snagged “Hot Love” the previous summer. I bought “Heart of Gold,” too, and lots of other singles that winter. I count six of the top 20 that I owned on 45s.

10. “Sweet Seasons”/Carole King. I can’t remember a time, in 1972 or anytime since, when I didn’t love hearing this song.

7.  “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”/Robert John. My brother and I used to go around our house approximating Robert John’s yodel. Our mother must have been so pleased.

5.  “Down by the Lazy River”/Osmonds. The week I am turning 12, I already know that I want to be on the radio—and that a hot-sounding record with a cold opening sounds insanely great off a jingle.

3.  “Precious and Few”/Climax. The week I am turning 12, I already am writer enough to admire “Quiet and blue like the sky / I’m hung over you.”

Before “Precious and Few,” Casey answers a listener question about the most non-American acts ever to appear in the Top 10 in the same week. It’s the week of May 8, 1965. With the British Invasion in full rage, nine of the top 10 are by foreign acts: Herman’s Hermits (who have two), the Beatles, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, the Seekers, Petula Clark, Freddie and the Dreamers, the Rolling Stones, and Sounds Orchestral. What Casey doesn’t mention is the outsider at the party, the lone American group, an example of the sort of trivia that will interest me many years hence: Gary Lewis and the Playboys.

1.  “Without You”/Nilsson. Gary Wright’s opening piano is timid and stately at the same time, like someone shyly stepping into a cathedral. But that’s the last timid thing about the record.

The end of February 1972 was the second semester of sixth grade. I might have had a birthday party at some point that month, or maybe I got to have a friend or two come out to the farm and stay overnight. The details are lost. Only the music endures.

(Please visit this blog’s companion Tumblr site for good stuff not seen at this blog.)

I Can Hear You, Mama

American Top 40 offered another ancient show to its affiliates recently—the one from February 26, 1972. As that was the week of my 12th birthday and the day has rolled around again, here are a few notes about that long-gone show.

40. “Kiss an Angel Good Morning”/Charley Pride. Compared to today’s country, full of frat boys singing about moonshine and dirt roads despite having grown up in the suburbs, this is the absolute truth—and it did 11 weeks on AT40 in the winter of ’72.

38. “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing”/James Brown. Casey misidentifies this as the second of six debut songs this week when it’s actually the first. It’s another Brown joint to sneak into the lower reaches of the survey while going unplayed by many Top 40 stations.

36. “The Nickel Song”/Melanie. Casey notes that Melanie has three songs in the Top 40 this week, two from her own label (“Ring the Living Bell,” which debuts at #34, and the former #1 “Brand New Key,” still around at #24.) and “The Nickel Song,” from the label that originally signed her. Casey will wonder later if Melanie will be the star in 1972 that Carole King had in 1971. Yes and no. Not even King had three Top 40 hits at the same time, but Tapestry would remain on the charts for years while Melanie’s three singles would be packed away with the macrame owls within six weeks.

35. “Runnin’ Away”/Sly and the Family Stone. Although WLS charted “Runnin’ Away” for four weeks, I can’t remember hearing it before I started playing it on Saturday at the 70s.

32. “Rock and Roll Lullaby”/B. J. Thomas. Casey mentions that members of the Crystals, Ronettes, and Diamonds, along with Duane Eddy, appear on this, and that it was assembled in the studio from sessions recorded in various places around the country. The result was, and is, spectacular—“Rock and Roll Lullaby” is one of the most beautiful performances ever to hit the Top 40 and I ain’t joking.

Numbers 31 through 28 create a remarkable train wreck: “I Gotcha” by Joe Tex brings the hard R&B; I am not sure what “Softly Whispering I Love You” by the English Congregation is supposed to be, with its feathery chorale giving way to a Michael Boltonesque lead vocal (and not to be confused with the Mike Curb Congregation); “Footstompin’ Music” by Grand Funk Railroad (which Casey introduces with a story about producer/manager Terry Knight that credits him exclusively for the band’s success); and “Fire and Water” by Wilson Pickett, a burnin’ R&B number with a guitar lead played by Dennis Coffey.

I would not have heard either “Softly Whispering I Love You” or “Footstompin’ Music” in 1972 because WLS didn’t chart either one. The station charted “Fire and Water” for only a week. “I Gotcha,” on the other hand, was around 13 weeks, and seemed to be on the air every hour later that spring.

21. “Black Dog”/Led Zeppelin and 20. “Stay With Me”/Faces. Your AM radio could indeed kick ass in 1972, although Casey introduces “Stay With Me” in the late-night FM-radio mode he sometimes used on the early AT40s. From this point through the rest of the show, Casey is unusually soft-spoken, so much so that he’s occasionally drowned out by the music. I wonder if he was coming down with something on the day the show was recorded.

We’ll listen to the second half of the show, which includes a couple of pretty strong pieces of trivia, on Monday.

The Beatles, Until the End of Time

The question of which record label released which Beatles single, the note upon which we ended last week’s Beatle post, is something geeks enjoy sorting out 50 years after the fact, but the average fan, going breathlessly to his or her local record store during those fevered days of 1964, could not have cared less.

Just as they dominated Billboard in April, the Beatles ruled Cash Box, too: on the chart of April 4, the Beatles held the top five spots and 12 out of 100, albeit in a different order than in Billboard. At KQV in Pittsburgh, the Beatles held the top 10 spots, and all were listed as co-Number Ones. At CHUM in Toronto, they had eight of the top 12; at “WA-Beatle-C” in New York, as the station billed itself during the Beatles’ February visit, five of the top 10; at WLS in Chicago, the Beatles had held the top four spots a couple of weeks before. The week of April 4, the Beatles also had the top two albums on the Billboard chart, and topped several charts in Britain and around the world. It’s frequently mentioned on the web that they had nine of the top 10 in Australia, but I can’t find a chart that shows it.

Although scoring the whole top five remains the greatest feat of dominance in American chart history, it was neither the first nor the last time an artist would hold more than one place at the top. Elvis had done it in 1956 with “Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender.” The Bee Gees would do it in 1978, when “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive” sat at #1 and #2. That same week, “Emotion” by Samantha Sang, written, produced, and featuring background vocals by the Bee Gees, sat at #3, while Andy Gibb’s “Love Is Thicker Than Water” held the #5 position. (In my view, that makes the Bee Gees second to the Beatles in this particular category.) Since 2002, and a change in chart methodology that counts paid digital downloads as well as purchased pieces of plastic, taking the top two spots has been done fairly often. Wikipedia sums it up nicely here. But take note: nobody’s ever managed the top three, let alone five.

Those changes in methodology have rendered the leap taken by “Can’t Buy Me Love” to the top spot on April 4, 1964, from #27 to #1, far less impressive. In 1998, “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica went from #28 to #1; since the methodology change of 2002, bigger leaps are relatively commonplace. Just since 2007, 11 records have taken leaps of at least 52 places to the #1 position, including a 97-to-1 leap for Kelly Clarkson’s “My World Would Suck Without You” back in 2009. Since 1995, 21 records have actually debuted on the Hot 100 at #1.

I can gas on about this for a lot longer than you’d care to read about it, so I’ll wrap up here with one last observation: Given that nobody, even in a marketplace where the record-charting methodology is much more precise and up-to-the-minute, has come especially close to equaling what the Beatles did in 1964, their mark for chart dominance, set 50 years ago, is going to last until the end of time.

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