Feeling Fine

It’s December of 1964 and the Beatles are back.

A month earlier, the Beatles had gone missing from the Billboard Hot 100 and from the chart at WOKY in Milwaukee. But in late November, their new single, “I Feel Fine,” backed with “She’s a Woman” hit the radio, and just as Beatle hits had been doing since February, soon conquered all. They charted at WOKY on November 28, shown together at #20. The double-sided hit would pause at #7 for the week of December 5, 1964, before hitting #1 on the 12th, where it would hold for four weeks. On the Hot 100 for December 5, “I Feel Fine” charted at #21 and “She’s a Woman” at #46.

The British Invasion bubbles along in Milwaukee, although just one British hit, the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” is in the station’s Top 10 for December 5. Elsewhere, the Zombies (“She’s Not There”), the Dave Clark Five (“Any Way You Want It”), the Rolling Stones (“Time Is on My Side”) and Manfred Mann (“Sha La La”) are in or close to the Top 20. So are Julie Rogers, with the now-forgotten “The Wedding,” and crooner Matt Monro with “Walk Away.” Marianne Faithful’s version of “As Tears Go By” and Herman Hermits’ “I’m Into Something Good” make their chart debuts. On the Hot 100, Chad and Jeremy’s “Willow Weep for Me” and the Searchers’ “Love Potion #9″ are taking aim at the Top 20. Sandie Shaw, the Animals, and Gerry & the Pacemakers are farther down, along with Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” making its Hot 100 debut at #80.

Elsewhere, the Hot 100 is crowded with future classics: “Come See About Me” (which is #1 for the week of December 5), “Baby Love,” “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” plus lesser hits by the Marvelettes, the Four Tops, and the Miracles. “Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-Las is on its way out; the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” is on its way up.

And aside from all that, there are these five records from the WOKY chart:

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Listen to the Music

(Pictured: delegates to the 1972 Democratic National Convention listen to George McGovern accept the nomination. Not pictured: reporters Walter Klondike and David Stinkley.)

Every now and then American Top 40 hits a streak that captures the full, glorious panoply of 70s music, and even more than that, demonstrates just how much damn fun it was to listen to the radio back then. The show from November 18, 1972, contains one such sequence:

23. “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues”/Danny O’Keefe
22. “Operator”/Jim Croce
21. “It Never Rains in Southern California”/Albert Hammond
20. “I’m Stone in Love With You”/Stylistics
19. “Burning Love”/Elvis Presley
18. “Ventura Highway”/America
17. “Thunder and Lightning”/Chi Coltrane
16. “Listen to the Music”/Doobie Brothers
15. “You Ought to Be With Me”/Al Green

It all came crashing to a halt at #14 with Chuck Berry’s execrable “My Ding-a-Ling,” but at least Casey’s modern-day producers had the good sense to shorten it.

They might have done the same down at #27 with Cashman and West’s “American City Suite.” Made up of three different songs patched together (“Sweet City Song,” “All Around the Town,” and “A Friend Is Dying”), “American City Suite” is an arty and ambitious record obviously striving for Relevance—a tribute to New York City fraught with fears about its future, apparently. It’s a big, unwieldy mess that runs 7:42 (edited down from nearly 11:00), and Casey played nearly every second of it.

Casey also played all five minutes of “Convention ’72” by the Delegates. It’s a break-in record detailing “the first get-together convention of Republicans and Democrats,” and it must have sounded mighty odd to listeners who happened to hear the November 18 show when it was rebroadcast around the country last month. (Those who didn’t remember the controversy surrounding the replacement of George McGovern’s original choice for running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, with Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver likely found it even more incomprehensible.) “Convention ’72” features “David Stinkley,” “Walter Klondike,” and “Sidney Bruntley,” the latter of whom is for some reason portrayed as a flaming homosexual, talking to famous political figures, who respond in clips from 1972 hits.

“Convention ’72” was written by Nick Censi and Nick Kousaleous, a couple of record moguls in Pittsburgh. Local DJ Bob DeCarlo of KQV provided the reporters’ voices. In 1984, DeCarlo told a reporter for Radio and Records that the three of them put the record together “for fun in my kitchen.” The three men worried about getting permission to use the song clips they had chosen for the record, so they asked the king of the break-in record, Dickie Goodman, for advice. Goodman told them, “You just do it and wait for the suits to come in.” Only one did.

For a few weeks around the 1972 presidential election, “Convention ’72” was a rage. It hit the Hot 100 on October 21 at #80 and cruised up the charts, going to #57 to #26 to #9 and finally to #8, its chart peak, for the week of November 18. It slipped to #11 for the week of the 25th, then to #28, and crashed then out of the Hot 100 altogether, as novelties will do. The song outperformed its national number in Seattle, DC, Phoenix, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Chicago, where it reached #5 at WCFL. Across town, WLS didn’t play it—like KQV, WLS was owned by ABC, and to avoid conflict-of-interest charges, no ABC owned-and-operated station played it. (I can’t verify whether KQV did.)

Elsewhere, the November 18, 1972, AT40 show includes weirdly un-commercial rock singles (Grand Funk’s “Rock and Roll Soul,” Alice Cooper’s “Elected,” the Band’s “Don’t Do It”), magnificent Philly soul classics (“Me and Mrs. Jones,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “I’ll Be Around”), a couple of nods to the women’s liberation movement (Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” and Bread’s “Sweet Surrender,” which contains the lines “you keep your rights / I’ll take your nights”), and an Osmonds record heavy enough to impress Led Zeppelin (“Crazy Horses”). All in all, it’s one of the most purely entertaining AT40 shows I’ve ever heard.

I’d Love You to Want Me

Going through my journal, I found this from 2001. It was music blogging before I ever had—or likely read—a music blog. I’ve added some links to it and edited it a little bit.

Today was as gray and gloomy as yesterday was clear and bright. I drove through the rain to Oregon Middle School to observe a teacher at work in a classroom this morning.

The kids were seventh graders, but they looked so impossibly young. Most voices were still high and soft, most features still childlike. They are the same age I was in the fall of 1972. That fall I was in seventh grade. I was going to manage the basketball team, mostly because I liked the coach, who was also my English teacher. I had probably begun writing a sports column for the school newspaper. But what frames the period most is what always frames the period—music.

That fall, I bought Lobo’s “I’d Love You To Want Me” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” on 45s—my taste was just as eclectic then as it is now. If I’d scan the charts from that season, I’d stop on “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues” by Danny O’Keefe, a song I recall having liked, but a song I couldn’t possibly have understood until much later (“You know my heart keeps telling me / You’re not a kid at 33”). The Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool,” which is on my Desert Island tape today, was hitting recurrents. Michael Jackson’s “Ben” would enter my personal mythology the next spring—it was on for my first slow dance with a girl. Climbing the charts were the Stylistics’ exquisite “I’m Stone in Love With You,” and the infinitely singable “Operator” by Jim Croce and “Something’s Wrong With Me” by Austin Roberts. Songs I have since come to admire were on the radio late that fall as well—Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” which didn’t have much of an impact on me then, sounds pretty good now. “Dialogue” by Chicago is one of my all-time favorites today, one of the most monumental records of the 1970s. And while I wouldn’t have heard Clean Living’s “In Heaven There is No Beer” back then, it would become a Friday-morning fixture years later on my radio shows in Macomb. . . .

If the paranormal researcher and author T.C. Lethbridge is correct, inanimate objects can record powerful emotions felt in their presence. Rocks on a battlefield, for example, can be found using his methods to have recorded pain and fear. And if Lethbridge is correct, the walls of my junior high school—indeed, of every junior high or middle school—would have to be literally alive with pain and fear, and lust and confusion and heartbreak and bravado and mirth and every other emotion adolescents can experience. . . .

So anyway—I felt empathy for those kids this morning, awkward and geeky and unsure of themselves. Although they face very different challenges in a world so different from mine as to be unrecognizable, I’m wagering some very universal, very human stuff is happening to them now, just as it happened to me. And some of it will linger in their hearts and minds years from now, when they’re not young anymore.

Coincidentally, about the time I found this old journal entry, I listened to an American Top 40 show from mid-November 1972, which contained most of these songs. Read about that in a future installment.

On the Air on a Holiday

(Pictured: “Kids, let’s make a plate for that nice young man from the radio station. He can sit at your table.”) 

This Thanksgiving, more retailers than ever are opening on the Day Itself—and this year, some of them are not merely open in the evening, they opened first thing this morning. Why Radio Shack, Dollar Tree, and Staples need to be open during the day on Thanksgiving Day I cannot imagine, but I am sure of this: the executives who decided it was necessary won’t be at their desks today. It’s only the front-line workers who suffer, and whose only reward for disrupting their family’s holiday is that they get to keep their jobs (so they can stay until 10:00 on Christmas Eve, probably). Within a couple of years, Thanksgiving Day will be just another all-day retail day like New Year’s Day, which was once a holiday on which all the stores were closed, but isn’t anymore. (And you can book it: within a decade, some retailer will decide to start its after-Christmas sale on Christmas night.)

In radio, the trend is in the opposite direction. Time was, a few people had to be at the station all day today, doing routine DJ stuff (including transmitter operation), playing syndicated holiday programming, anchoring news, and suchlike. Today, technology makes it possible to go unstaffed for all or part of the day. Automation is sophisticated enough to handle everything, right up to controlling the transmitters and automatically contacting an engineer if something goes wrong. I don’t have a problem with this, for a couple of reasons. Selfishly, it benefits me: I work less on holidays now than I did years ago. And it also makes economic sense. Why pay staffers when you don’t have to?

Automation or not, working Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s is a fact of radio life—or it was, back when I signed up for it. And it is—or it was, back when I signed up for it—how you earned your way into the fraternity. Full-time jocks could often get holidays off, but the new kids and the part-timers had to work. After a while, holiday shifts took on a certain feeling of importance—somebody has to be here to serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity, and not everybody’s qualified to do it, so why not me? You might be tracking Ray Conniff records and reading sponsors’ holiday greetings, but you were there, which is the main thing listeners expect of their radio stations. And on those odd holidays when the weather or the news was bad, you were there for that, too.

As you gain seniority, it is a fine thing to occupy an exalted-enough position to merit holidays off. Some people take every one of them, all they can get, and that’s OK with me. But some of us, as we gained seniority (or age, or wisdom, or whatever the opposite of wisdom is), discovered that we actually like working on holidays. My pleasure at being on the air on Christmas Eve is well chronicled at this blog, and I never minded Thanksgivings either, as long as there was time for a nice meal somewhere. During his early years in Chicago, Larry Lujack used to volunteer for holidays “so the guys with kids can spend it with their families,” even though Lujack had a wife and kid of his own. And on my own hometown radio station, the general manager almost always did a shift on Christmas morning.

I asked some of my radio pals for work-related holiday memories that stood out to them. One remembers triple-shifting on Christmas during a blizzard. Another recalls a three-way conference call during the wee hours of a New Year’s Day, three friends on three stations in three states, doing their respective shows but talking to each other while the records were playing. A couple noted the remarkable generosity of listeners, who called in to make sure the jock or newsman would be getting a Thanksgiving dinner at some point, and/or offering an invitation to one.

On this day, radio people on the job are like cops, nurses, firemen, convenience store clerks, and hookers—we’re providing a vital public service like we always have. It’s what we’re called to do. And many of us are happy to do it, even if you don’t invite us to your house for dinner.

Essential Songs and Official Positions

(Pictured: John Leventhal and Rosanne Cash in 2013.)

We are in pre-holiday mode at the blog this week. Longtime readers may remember that our pre-holiday mode is not much different than our regular mode, except we worry less about the things we should otherwise be doing that we are not.

Over the weekend, The Mrs. and I returned to our much-missed former home of Iowa City, where we saw Rosanne Cash and her husband/guitarist/collaborator John Leventhal perform live. The last time we saw Rosanne she had a full band; this time it was just her and Mr. L doing what she calls “the old soft shoe.” They performed several songs from her latest album The River and the Thread, and she interspersed them with stories about what inspired their creation. She noted that the grave of blues pioneer Robert Johnson, the store where Emmett Till ran into trouble with the people who murdered him (and helped spark the Civil Rights Movement), and the Tallahatchie Bridge, made famous in Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” are located only a few miles apart—a testimonial to the mysterious and outsized influence of Southern culture on American history.

“Ode to Billie Joe” must certainly be on the fabled list of essential songs Rosanne’s father gave her when she was a teenager, and which inspired her 2009 album The List. It was one of her best individual performances Saturday night. (Hear a 2013 performance of it here.) So was “Blue Moon With Heartache,” one of her first hit singles over 30 years ago. “When I wrote this, I was younger than my oldest daughter,” she said. (2011 performance here.)

(Digression: although it will probably be shunted off to the Americana category at the Grammys in favor of a bunch of albums with nine producers and eight songwriters on each track, The River and the Thread should be nominated for Album of the Year, and it damn well ought to win.)

I think we’re gonna make a roundup of links that have appeared on my Twitter feed, which we’ve done here several times recently, into a regular thing. Whatever it takes to feed the content monster, and two dozen of you who are still reading this blog. Let’s get it on:

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A Big Leg Woman, a Stoned Cowboy, and a Partridge on Your TV

(Pictured: you know who. Don’t worry; this post isn’t really about them.)

Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote for Popdose back in 2008:

In “My Son, the Feminist,” the December 11, 1970, episode of The Partridge Family, Keith’s girlfriend wants the band to perform at her women’s lib rally. The family is skeptical, but when a group of hostile, anti-lib parents threatens to run them out of town, Mother Partridge says “screw you” [loose translation] and the family decides to perform. The appearance nearly doesn’t come off when the hostile parents storm the psychedelic tour bus, and Keith’s girlfriend announces that the band has to sing “women’s liberation songs”—grim, unshaven-armpit agit-prop [loose translation]—but after threatening to quit, a rebellious Keith says goddammit [loose translation], the show must go on, and the family kicks into a song the girlfriend considers exploitative and demeaning to women: “I Think I Love You.”  Lo, its powerful bubblegummy mojo wins over the girlfriend, the hostile parents, the school principal, and even Mr. Kincaid, and they all live happily until the next week’s episode. As well they might have: On the night “My Son, the Feminist” aired on ABC, “I Think I Love You” had already spent three weeks at Number One.

“I Think I Love You” first hit #1 44 years ago today, a number that leaves me woozy after contemplating how damn long ago that really is. The songs from the fall of 1970 and what they mean in my life has been chronicled here often, perhaps past the point at which you’re willing to read any more about them. So instead of getting all moony and stupid about “I’ll Be There” and “Tears of a Clown” and “Gypsy Woman” and “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Share the Land” again, here are five other songs from deep in the Hot 100 on that long-distant date.

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