(Pictured: kids in America, summer 1976.)
In Buffalo, New York, WYSL still exists today, still on AM at 1040 (and on FM at 92.1), running mostly conservative talk. The 50,000-watt signal on AM 1520 isn’t called WKBW anymore; it’s WWKB, and it carries ESPN Radio. Each station has a colorful history, and the Top 40 days we discussed in a previous post are a big part of it. (You can read about WKBW here and WYSL here.)
Although the two stations offered their 1976 listeners two different experiences, in one significant way, they were highly similar. No matter which station you had in your ear all day every day, each one gave the summer of 1976 three signature songs.
One was a Hot 100 monster: “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. I’ve written about this song several times over the years (most thoroughly here), and I suspect that regular readers of this pondwater might be able to predict what I’d say about it were I to try to write about it again. So go watch this VH1 clip to see a bit of their short-lived TV variety show (with David Letterman), from which I learned that one member of the group is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s keyboard player today. I didn’t realize it was the same guy.
Another of western New York’s summer of ’76 signature songs is a Hot 100 oddball: “A Little Bit More” by Dr. Hook. The song would become a significant national hit, but not in the summer—it wouldn’t hit its Hot 100 peak of #11 until October, but it did a long stretch at #1 in Buffalo starting in late June, long before it ever got onto American Top 40. It occasionally shows up on worst-songs-of-the-70s lists, mostly for some pretty unsexy images, including “When your body’s had enough of me / And I’m layin’ flat out on the floor.” But at a certain point, a good performance can sell anything: lead singer Dennis Locorriere makes “We’d better get it on now / Cause we’ve got a whole life to live through” sound like a beautiful declaration of love.
Then again, it was on my radio every couple of hours in October 1976, so I might not be the most credible authority on it.
(Digression: somewhere in my archives I have the tape of an interview a couple of us did with Locorriere and Ray Sawyer at WXXQ in Freeport, Illinois, before Dr. Hook appeared at the Stephenson County Fair in 1980. I expect it was pretty terrible, although I can remember one funny line: Sawyer said that his famous eye-patch is real. “I lost my eye in a car accident,” he told us. “I went back later and tried to find it, though.”)
The third signature hit of the Buffalo summer of 1976 is a song most people today don’t know at all: “Listen to the Buddha” by Ozo. Apart from a couple of stray surveys from WBBF in Rochester, New York, the two Buffalo stations are the only ones at ARSA showing this semi-hypnotic reggae number, and both stations have it riding high throughout July. It will reach #4 on both by the end of the month. Buffalo might be singlehandedly responsible for getting it onto the Hot 100: it would go #99-98-96 and out during a three-week run during the last half of August.
I wonder if any of the oldies stations up there are playing it today.
(Pictured: just another day in America’s bicentennial year.)
One day recently I decided it might be interesting to compare two radio surveys from the same city for the same week. I picked WKBW and WYSL in Buffalo, New York, and I chose a week in July 1976 because of course I did. The project got a little bigger than I planned—I ended up with an Excel spreadsheet tracking the chart action on both stations plus the Billboard Hot 100 for the whole month.
And I intend to use it, on the flip.
(Pictured: the Rolling Stones, circa 1964. Keef already looks a bit sketchy.)
Hey, remember the Beatles? They were pretty hot there for a while. Whatever happened to those guys?
On July 4, 1964, the single act that had dominated record charts all year like none other in history, not just at WOKY in Milwaukee but around the world, were nowhere to be found on the WOKY chart. The two-sided hit “Love Me Do”/”P.S. I Love You” had charted for a final week on June 20th, but unlike every other Beatles hit that spring, nothing came blazing up behind it. The WOKY chart for June 27th was Beatle-free, and so was the one for July 4.
The Hot 100 was similarly light on Fabs 50 years ago this week: “Love Me Do” was the last Beatle hit remaining on the chart, sitting at #19—if you don’t want to count the Boston Pops recording of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” which debuted at #74. This wasn’t going to last, of course. On July 4, 1964, hype surrounding the forthcoming film A Hard Day’s Night must have been intense, with its pending release in the UK on the 6th and its American premiere set for August, and within a week or 10 days, there would new Beatles music on the radio again. But as Americans picnicked and partied and looked up at the fireworks in the sky on this particular Fourth, the current hits playing on their little transistor radios were coming from other stars.
Lots of them were from Britain. On July 4, Gerry and the Pacemakers (“Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”), Peter and Gordon (“A World Without Love”), Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (“Bad to Me”) and the Dave Clark Five (“Can’t You See That She’s Mine”) were all in the top 10 on the Hot 100 (and “A World Without Love” had been #1 the week before, the first British act other than the Beatles to scale the heights). All were in the top 15 at WOKY, which was also charting the Searchers (“Don’t Throw Your Love Away”), Cliff Richard (“Bachelor Boy”), and another Peter and Gordon hit (“Nobody I Know”) in the lower reaches of its chart. And at the very bottom of its top 35, WOKY debuted a new British band, the Rolling Stones, with “Tell Me (You’re Coming Back).” WOKY had not charted the Stones’ earlier “Not Fade Away”; “Tell Me,” which debuted on the Hot 100 the same week, would eventually become their first Top 40 hit.
Pre-Beatles pop styles were doing just fine yet, though: Barbra Streisand is at #5 with “People,” and there are records from Terry Stafford, Chubby Checker, Bobby Vinton, Louis Armstrong, Al Martino, and Jack Jones farther down the chart. (And the Boston Pops’ Beatles cover, too.)
And here are five other records that jump out as I browse the WOKY chart dated July 4, 1964:
(Pictured: Swamp Dogg, who didn’t need to cover Sinatra to declare he did it his way.)
I am still working my way through Matt Hinrichs’ monumental Outside the Top 40 Spotify lists for 1970, 1971, and 1972. They contain hundreds of songs that placed on either the Hot 100 or the Bubbling Under singles charts without making it to #40 or better. They’re a damn treasure and that’s no joke. Even though I’ve spent countless hours poking around in dusty corners all these years, these lists keep revealing records I’ve never heard and performers I’ve never bothered to notice.
For example: Bill Deal and the Rhondels. I’d heard of them but never paid much attention. Although they emerged at a moment in history when horn bands like Chicago and BS&T were getting hot, they were different, a raucous show band, and two of their biggest hits were covers of songs from an earlier day: “May I,” and the biggest, “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am,” which went to #23 late in the summer of 1969. The band placed among Billboard‘s top 10 artists of 1969, a list populated by a remarkable number of acts who barely flourished beyond 1969—the Brooklyn Bridge, Oliver, the Friends of Distinction, the Winstons, and Checkmates Ltd. featuring Sonny Charles—and the Rhondels were one of them, bagging one last Hot 100 hit before returning to the Virginia/Carolina beach-music scene from which they had come. That last hit is toned down a great deal from their customary party honk, and it’s pretty good: “Nothing Succeeds Like Success” got up to #63 in the spring of 1970.
“My Way” is one of the most famous songs in American pop, but it strikes me that it’s a difficult one to do well given that Frank Sinatra owns it. Sinatra’s version is prideful in a way unique to him; the second-most-famous one, by Elvis, made a few months before his death, comes off bathetic—like a lot of late-period Elvis recordings, there’s emptiness at the emotional center of it. Brook Benton recorded “My Way” in 1970, made it as personal as Sinatra did but in his own imitable way, and took it up to #72.
On the subject of personal and inimitable, there’s Bettye Swann’s cover of “Little Things Mean a Lot,” originally made famous in 1954 by Kitty Kallen. Swann moved from Louisiana to Los Angeles in the early 60s and scored a #1 R&B hit with “Make Me Yours” in 1967, and four other Hot 100 hits between 1967 and 1973, plus four others that bubbled under. “Little Things Mean a Lot” reached #114 in February 1970.
Don’t confuse Doris Duke with Doris Troy. Troy famously recorded “Just One Look” and had some late recordings released on Apple; Duke was a gospel singer who had cut some demos for Motown and sang on sessions for Gamble and Huff before she made an album at Capricorn Studios called I’m a Loser, with songs by Gary U.S. Bonds and Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams. Swamp Dogg also produced it. The album contained two singles, “To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman),” which went Top-10 on the soul chart and #50 on the Hot 100 in the spring of 1970, and “Feet Start Walkin’,” which bubbled under, reaching #109 in the summer. The tiny label on which I’m a Loser was released went tits-up shortly thereafter, and Duke didn’t record again until 1975. After three albums in six years, she retired from music, and as Allmusic.com puts it, “at the time of this writing her whereabouts and activities are unknown.”
During the week of June 6, 1970, while “Feet Start Walkin'” bubbled under at #117, a Bonds/Williams song performed by Swamp Dogg hisownself sat directly above at #116: “Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe,” from an album called Total Destruction to Your Mind. According to Allmusic.com, the album is what resulted after Williams, an idiosyncratic character to begin with, experimented with LSD. “Mama’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe” is a deep Southern blues groove, and the whole story of the lyric is right there in the title.
There will be future installments along this line, because how could there not?
(Pictured: REO Speedwagon sometime around 1981. Their jazz-hands pose has them looking like the band that played the Homecoming dance at your high school, which 10 years before, they might have been.)
The summer of 1981, which was the subject of a post earlier this week, was the last one I spent living the life of a student, the only life I had known since I went off to kindergarten. Even so, it was different—I had left home for good after the summer of 1980, and I spent the summer of ’81 in my college apartment, working my part-time job and taking a couple of classes. A few of us kept the campus radio station on the air on an intermittent schedule, broadcasting mostly to ourselves.
We were an album-rock station, so we would not have been playing much of the stuff on the Top 40 then, apart from the Moody Blues, Alan Parsons Project, Pure Prairie League, John Lennon, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty, Styx, REO, and George Harrison. But what else would we have been playing? Here’s the Billboard Top 10 from a typical midsummer week:
1. Mistaken Identity/Kim Carnes
2. Hi Infidelity/REO Speedwagon
3. Long Distance Voyager/Moody Blues
4. Paradise Theater/Styx
5. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap/AC-DC
6. Hard Promises/Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
7. Face Value/Phil Collins
8. Street Songs/Rick James
9. Stars on Long Play/Stars on Long Play
(Pictured: the Buffalo Springfield in 1967. Three years later they would make a mysterious connection with an anonymous West Coast band that resulted in one of the most obscure singles ever.)
I have spent many hours the last week or so listening to a Spotify playlist assembled by Matt Hinrichs, maestro of Scrubbles.net. “Beyond the Top 40: 1970″ is just that—every song in the Spotify library that charted at #41 or below on the Hot 100 or the Bubbling Under chart, during 1970. And holy smokes is it loaded with cool songs, many of which I had never heard before. Here are five of them:
“One Light, Two Lights”/The Satisfactions. This group started in 1954 as a street corner doo-wop outfit in the District of Columbia and released several singles under various names for various labels between 1958 and 1967. By 1970 they were without a record deal, so they went to Oklahoma on their own hook and recorded some songs at a studio owned by country star Conway Twitty. A couple of them were picked up by the Lionel label, part-owned by songwriter Jimmy Webb. The great “One Light, Two Lights” was the most successful of the Lionel sides, creeping into the Hot 100 for a couple of weeks and peaking at #94 in November 1970.
“The Witch”/The Rattles. The Rattles were gigging in Hamburg the same time the Beatles were, sometimes on the same bill, playing the same type of amphetamine-fueled rock ‘n’ roll shows. They went on to a great deal of success in their home country throughout the 1960s, although it didn’t translate much abroad. “The Witch” is a rager, and how it’s missed being unearthed for Halloween airplay every year I dunno. It got to #79 on the Hot 100 in a five-week run during the summer of 1970.
“Airport Song”/Magna Carta. This band is usually numbered among the early British prog rockers, and logically enough, because their 1970 album Seasons contained a side-long, multi-part suite, but “Airport Song” sounds more like Simon and Garfunkel on heavy sedation, albeit in a good way. Seasons was produced by Gus Dudgeon, famed as Elton John’s longtime producer, and it features Elton’s future guitarist, Davey Johnstone. (Rick Wakeman is also on Seasons, playing keyboards.) “Airport Song” bubbled under for two weeks in December 1970, reaching #111. An edition of the band, fronted by co-founder and lead singer Chris Simpson, is still together today, and still records prolifically.