When I’m on the air and I play a new song, I’m very careful to announce the title and artist, before and after if I can. Seems like a no-brainer. Even if you’ve never been on the air a second in your life, you’d probably want to do it, too. But one of the major complaints listeners have is that stations don’t do it enough.
Part of it has to do with the nature of being a DJ. The songs we play every day wear out for us pretty quickly. Two weeks after the new (current example) Miranda Lambert song has been on our air, we’ve heard it enough so it doesn’t seem new anymore. But we’re the only ones who hear every minute of our shows and who listen to the other jocks all day in the office. The average listener is dropping in and dropping out (listening for nine minutes at a time, if the consultants are to be believed), so not only is it possible she’s missed the 20 times we’ve played the new Miranda Lambert song in the last week, it’s likely. (That’s why some stations refer to any current hit as “new,” even if it’s been around for a couple of months.)
Part of our failure to identify new songs has to do with a station’s formatics. With very few exceptions, the jock on the air doesn’t decide when to talk—our opportunities are scheduled for us. Talk over this introduction, talk out of this record before the commercials, talk into this record after the commercials—and mess with the sequence at your peril. So if that new Miranda Lambert song is in a spot where the jock isn’t supposed to talk, woe betide anybody who wants to know the name of it.
(At the stations I work for, nobody’s getting fired if he or she messes with the sequence for a good reason, such as an urgent traffic or weather update. But that’s not always the case. In 1989, a classic-rock jock in Dallas named Ken Baker interrupted a song to read a tornado warning, whereupon a company VP—not even a local manager, apparently—angrily blazed into the studio to say that Baker should have waited until the next scheduled break because “we’re an all-music station.” Baker responded stylishly, saying he’d be reading the names of the dead if he waited—and then he quit.)
Services like Spotify, Pandora, and satellite radio have text displays with title and artist. Station websites have a now-playing feature, too, and you can even text some stations and use a keyword to get the names of the last three songs. But none of those are really the same as hearing the jock say, “Here’s a brand-new song by so-and-so,” particularly if so-and-so is a favorite artist of yours.
All of this is a poor introduction to a piece from the New York Times titled “Driving to the Music of Chance,” all about the serendipity of listening to radio—not Spotify, not Pandora, not a CD, but radio—in the car, about the “random perfection” of moments that happen when you surrender control of your playlist and simply let music happen to you. While the author acknowledges that commercial radio is by no means perfect, it never was. And nothing else, not even 10,000 iPod songs on shuffle, is quite the same.
Also worth checking into this week:
—A Hollywood Reporter piece on the life and career of Casey Kasem, and the sad conflict currently raging between Kasem’s wife and his children. Casey had one of the most extraordinary careers in broadcasting history, and many of the details are not especially well known.
—A map showing the best-selling artists in the United States by the state of their birth. You’d figure Bruce Springsteen from New Jersey and Michael Jackson from Indiana, but a few are real surprises.
—When Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road gets its deluxe 40th anniversary edition next month, the super-expensive version will include a DVD with a 1973 documentary about the making of the album. If you want to see it now for free, get over to YouTube before it’s taken down.
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.
If you read this blog, you probably also read Neck Pickup (and if you don’t, you should). The other night, the artist formerly known as Kinky Paprika took up the task of naming his least-favorite artists, and the pitfalls inherent in doing so. Is it fair to list a performer without knowing their whole catalog? What if someone you like has a terrible period mid-career that you dislike? Is it the performer you hate, or the whole genre? Picking the worst is a more difficult task than it seems like it should be.
Beyond all that, tastes change. As a pre-adolescent, raised on the Partridge Family, I hated Creedence Clearwater Revival, but I got over it. When I got to college, AC/DC was all the rage among my peers, but I detested them. Once I realized that Bon Scott approached the whole thing as a put-on—made even clearer by the way his replacement, Brian Johnson, failed to get the joke—I lightened up on them. Conversely, I adored Emerson Lake and Palmer when I was a teenage prog-rock fan; only now do I hear their frequent absurdity.
As a radio guy, I hear artists as makers of specific songs, and that makes it hard for me to evaluate their work across the board. A good example is Blake Shelton. He’s capable of making great records—“Honey Bee,” from a few years ago, is one of the great radio songs in any genre, and more recent hits like “God Gave Me You” and “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking” are genuine country songs that would have been popular in any era. “Boys ‘Round Here,” on the other hand, might be among the half-dozen worst records since Edison—its utter stupidity (and contempt for its presumed audience) is remarkable. So do I like Blake Shelton, or don’t I? Yes and no.
Fashions get in the way. The relentless beat-heavy nature of the Top 40 these days is exhausting, as is the modern style of production, in which records have the dynamic range of the dial tone. Listening to some of these records is like being beaten by a rubber hose. Use something like Audacity to look at their waveforms and you’ll see just how cranked up they are, all the way to the top of the waveform. This violates what anybody who works with sound used to be taught—levels should peak “in the red,” but not too far in the red, lest the sound distort. The phenomenon of hitting the top is known as “brickwalling”—and it’s not just new records that suffer from it. Many old recordings are being remastered this way, to conform to radio’s desire for and listeners’ tolerance of louder sound, thereby destroying the original dynamics. Every once in a while, the people who remaster the Casey Kasem repeats will brickwall them, and it only proves that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
Now that I’ve drifted a great distance from this post’s original premise, I’m not sure I can get back. I don’t need to hear anything from today’s made-by-TV singers in any genre. Based on what I’ve heard on the radio, John Mayer and Coldplay have mastered the dubious art of making music devoid of any reason to care about it. Bridging the gap from contemporary to classic rock, Jon Bon Jovi is a noisy hack. John Mellencamp, apart from one magnificent album (Rain on the Scarecrow) and some scattered singles, is largely unnecessary to me. Pat Benatar is completely unnecessary. Because my disdain for Elvis Costello causes pain to some people I like, I have tried to get over it, but I just can’t. And there’s Fogelberg, of course. But for each of these artists (even John Mayer), I can name at least one song that I don’t mind. So yeah, this process is more difficult than it seems like it should be.
If you like Coldplay or Elvis Costello, or anybody else I mentioned, don’t take it personally. Enjoy ‘em. There are artists you don’t like, I’m sure. And I’d like to know who they are.
It’s time for another seeds-and-stems post, collecting bits that don’t add up to a whole post.
—Self promotion goes first. I am going to continue plugging this blog’s companion Tumblr site until you start going over there. If the stuff you read here is of interest to you, the pictures I’m finding and reblogging with commentary are guaranteed to be of interest to you as well. The Tumblr site gets new stuff whenever I find something I like, so it updates more often than this blog does. Start by checking out this fabulous transistor radio. And this space-age London record store of the 1950s. And this picture, which explains a lot.
—It’s starting to feel like piling on to notice oddities and errors in American Top 40 shows, even as it remains mighty interesting to catch them. On the show dated February 1, 1975, Casey said that members of Styx were part of the Trade Winds, a group that hit in 1965 with “New York’s a Lonely Town.” But that group was an entirely different one. Dennis De Young and the Panozzo brothers were once in a band called the Tradewinds—one word, not two—which according to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows) changed its name to TW4 after “New York’s a Lonely Town” hit. (One of the Trade Winds—two words, not one—was Vini Poncia, familiar to liner-note readers of the 70s as a songwriter and producer and most famous for collaborating with Ringo Starr and KISS.) Introducing Barry Manilow’s “Mandy,” Casey referred to the famous commercial jingles Manilow had written, including McDonald’s famous “you deserve a break today.” Nearly everybody on the planet believes Manilow wrote that, but he didn’t. He wrote the slightly less famous “you, you’re the one” for McDonald’s.
—The right hand column of YouTube, where you see videos plausibly related to what you were searching for in the first place, is one of the most effective time-wasters there is. Thanks to a single link over there, I spent far more time than I should have watching videos produced by user Johnnyboy792, including a series devoted to various years of the 1970s. Each one is a comprehensive rundown of what we were watching on TV and at the movies, listening to on the radio, following on the news, and buying. Because he’s somehow missed doing a video for 1976, you’ll have to start with this one covering 1974 and surf on from there. His work is professional quality with excellent video and sound, intelligently edited and absolutely worth your time. Also highly recommended there: 34 minutes of highlights from Saturday morning cartoons 1964-1976.
—In 1971, Esquire published musical advice to incoming college freshmen, which contains both solid advice and magnificent snark: “Always buy any Rolling Stones album immediately.” But avoid the Jefferson Airplane: “[T]here’s a paradox in screaming for revolution from the confines of a Bentley.”
—I haven’t been reading Living in Stereo regularly, but that’s an oversight that must be corrected. One of its proprietors, author and scholar David Cantwell, wrote a tremendous introduction to the Staple Singers for Slate recently. If you have not yet been baptized by Mavis and the family, get thyownself to the altar.
—On his last Late Night before taking over for Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon performed the Band’s “The Weight,” with a backing band of Muppets. And it was tremendous.
To find more stuff like this, follow me on Twitter. The Twitter widget in this blog’s right-hand column hasn’t been working very well lately, so it’s probably best to cut out the middleman.
February 10, 1964, was a Monday. By a vote of 290 to 130, the House of Representatives passes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and sends it to the Senate. President Lyndon Johnson makes a statement in the Cabinet Room regarding the certification of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, which gained enough states for ratification late last month. Johnson also sends a message to Congress advocating adoption of a public-health program that will be known as Medicare, and he releases a report recommending a new system of satellites for global communication. Two Australian navy ships on maneuvers collide in Jervis Bay; 81 sailors die. Future media personality Glenn Beck is born. The Rotary Club of Dickinson, Texas, holds its first meeting. The Manley Popcorn Machine company, which makes commercial poppers and other concession equipment used in theaters, stadiums, and schools, gets a patent for a new control mechanism.
Guests on The Ed Sullivan Show last night included Terry McDermott, America’s lone gold-medal winner at the just-completed Winter Olympics, held in Innsbruck, Austria, and the Beatles. (Before the show, McDermott, who is a barber, was photographed pretending to cut Paul McCartney’s hair.) Today, the Beatles hold a press conference at the Plaza Hotel in New York, where they are presented with gold records for Meet the Beatles and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” They will remain in the city until tomorrow, when a snowstorm will force them to take a train to Washington, D.C., for the first date on their American tour. On TV tonight, ABC airs The Outer Limits and Wagon Train; CBS has episodes of I’ve Got a Secret (with special guest Jonathan Winters), The Lucy Show, The Danny Thomas Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and East Side, West Side, which stars George C. Scott as a New York social worker. Tonight’s episode of the latter is the pilot, which has never been broadcast because some roles were recast with different actors before the series premiered last September. CBS is apparently running it at last because they’ve decided to cancel the show.
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers record an entire album, to be called Free for All. An item in the Harvard Crimson announces that Bob Dylan will be the featured performer on Jubilee Weekend in April. Del Shannon will also appear. At WIBG in Philadelphia, where DJs Joe Niagara and Hy Lit call themselves the fifth and sixth Beatles, “I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and “I Saw Her Standing There” are co-#1s on the station’s survey. The Beatles are also at #3 with “She Loves You” (tucked in behind Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”), at #13 with “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You,” and at #44 with “My Bonnie,” an old recording with Tony Sheridan. The hottest record on the survey does not belong to the Beatles, however: “Dawn” by the Four Seasons is up to #6 from #34. Others in the top 10 are Major Lance (“Um, Um, Um, Um, Um”), Rick Nelson (“For You”), the Marketts (“Out of Limits”), Andy Williams (“A Fool Never Learns”), the Impressions (“Talking About My Baby”), and the Tams (“What Kind of Fool”). Notable farther down: “My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut” by Donna Lynn (#71) and “The Boy With the Beatle Hair” by the Swans (#84).
Perspective From the Present: Donna Lynn was 14 in 1964, and she actually got a whole album out of her novelty single. It features chipper-sounding versions of several recently popular songs and something called “I Had a Dream I Was a Beatle,” which sounds almost exactly like “My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut.” The Swans’ ”The Boy With the Beatle Hair” was released on Philadelphia’s Cameo label and is far better than “My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut,” by a long shot. Both made the Hot 100; Lynn got to #83 and the Swans to #85 , peaking in early March.
But the Beatles proved to have somewhat greater staying power.
Back in 2008, I crunched the numbers regarding the Beatles’ unprecedented dominance of the Billboard singles chart during the spring of 1964. What follows is part 1 of a two-part reboot. Small correction added.
It is the most stupendous, bodacious feat of dominance in the history of the record charts. On the Billboard Hot 100 dated February 8, 1964, the day before the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was spending its second week at #1, and “She Loves You” had blasted to #7 from #21. The storm that was Beatlemania would continue to rise with the coming of spring:
February 15: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” remains at #1; “She Loves You” rises to #3.
February 22: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” remains at #1; “She Loves You” rises to #2.
February 29: Same two in the same spots at the top; “Please Please Me” zooms to #6 from #29.
March 7: Status quo at the top, “Please Please Me” to #4.
March 14: The Beatles hold the top three spots: “Hand,” “Loves You,” “Please.”
March 21: “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” switch positions; “Please Please Me” holds at #3; “Twist and Shout” makes an amazing leap to #7 from #55.
March 28: The top two are the same; “Twist and Shout” takes over #3, dropping “Please Please Me” to #4.
And so, things were falling into place. On April 4, 1964, “Can’t Buy Me Love” made the greatest leap in chart history up to that time, reaching #1 from #27 the previous week. The rest of the top five lined up this way: “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “Please Please Me.” That same week, seven other Beatles songs were on the Hot 100: “I Saw Her Standing There” at #31, “From Me to You” at #41, “Do You Want to Know a Secret” at #46, “All My Loving” at #58, “You Can’t Do That” at #65, “Roll Over Beethoven” at #68, and “Thank You Girl” at #79.
There was even a pair of Beatles-related novelties on the chart that week. “We Love You Beatles” by the Carefrees was based on the chant heard outside the New York hotel where the Beatles stayed in February, which was in turn based on a song heard in the 1960 musical Bye Bye Birdie. “A Letter to the Beatles” by the Four Preps, the last chart hit for the popular vocal group of the 50s, criticizes the Beatles for charging for fan-club memberships. Like the handful of other anti-Beatles records released in 1964, it’s the last bleat of people who know they’ve lost the battle and the war.
The 12 Beatles songs on the Hot 100 during that April week 50 years ago were released in the United States on four different labels. “Please Please Me,” “From Me to You” and “Do You Want to Know a Secret” were on Vee-Jay, which licensed them from EMI after EMI’s American subsidiary, Capitol, refused to release them. “Twist and Shout” was on Tollie, a Vee-Jay subsidiary. (Vee-Jay is said to have gone under in 1964 partly because it couldn’t keep up with the demand for Beatles records.) “She Loves You” was on Swan, a Philadelphia label
in which Dick Clark was a silent partner. (He had been, but not in ’63; see below.) “All My Loving” and “Roll Over Beethoven” were on Capitol of Canada, the Canadian EMI subsidiary, which had not shared the Beatle resistance of its American counterpart. Only “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” were official Capitol releases, which came after the company saw the light.
More along this line follows in our next installment of this, next week.