(Pictured: Kenny Loggins, 1985.)
How much quantitative difference was there between #40 and #41 on the Hot 100 back in the day, do you suppose? How many copies sold separated the two in a typical week? How much radio action? It couldn’t have been very much.
Yet the term Top 40 has great meaning to us. Songs that cross the line have a claim on history denied to those that do not. So here we go with another installment of One Week in the 40, the poorly named feature that shines a light on records that crossed the line for a single week between 1964 and 1986. This batch spans from the 60s to the 80s.
—Andy Williams charted steadily on the Hot 100 from 1956 until 1976, with 27 Top 40 hits. He scored big on the adult-contemporary chart too, and was a TV star from the 60s to the 80s. “Ain’t It True,” which is by no means the kind of thing you’d expect from Williams, hit #40 for the week of October 16, 1965—and plunged right off the Hot 100 from there.
—Another artist with a long string of varied credits is Perry Como, who began as a big-band vocalist and became a star of radio and TV. He scored hits consistently from the late 40s to the late 50s and was not slowed all that much by the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. (It may surprise you to learn he hit the Top 10 as late as January 1971 with “It’s Impossible.”) He makes this list for “Seattle,” which was the theme from the TV series Here Come the Brides (based on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), and which spent the week of May 31, 1969, at #38.
—The Four Seasons are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Frankie Valli is not. He’s on our list, however: the unjustly forgotten “(You’re Gonna) Hurt Yourself” hit #38 for the week of February 12, 1966.
—Like Valli, Art Garfunkel is a member of the Rock Hall as part of an act, but not by himself. He makes our list with “I Shall Sing,” which moved from #45 to #38 for the week of February 9, 1974, then dropped back to #45 the following week. (“I Shall Sing” was written and recorded by Van Morrison during the sessions that resulted in the 1970 album Moondance, but not released by Van until the deluxe Moondance reissue of 2013.)
—Your list of people who should be in the Rock Hall—but aren’t—likely includes the Doobie Brothers, and this list includes them too. “Sweet Maxine,” from the album Stampede, spent the week of August 30, 1975, at #40. It would be the last time the Doobies hit with their original biker-band sound until “The Doctor” in 1989.
—A lot of people would argue in favor of the Meters for the Rock Hall, too. They’re on this list with “Sophisticated Cissy,” which leaped from #41 to #34 for the week of March 22, 1969, before falling back to #45 and then out of the Hot 100, replaced a week later by the Meters’ biggest hit, “Cissy Strut.”
—Chic has been a Rock Hall nominee in recent years. Their “Everybody Dance,” which fell between “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” and “Le Freak,” hit #38 for the week of June 17, 1978.
—Steve Perry of Journey was among the top solo acts of 1984, scoring four Top 40 hits, all from the album Street Talk. You remember “Oh Sherrie” and “Foolish Heart.” The ones you may not remember are “She’s Mine” (#21) and “Strung Out,” which I think is the best of the four. It reached #40 for the week of October 27, 1984.
—Kenny Loggins was never off the radio in the 80s, although he had but four Top-10 hits. Eight other singles made the Top 40, including the generic power ballad “Forever,” #40 during the week of July 20, 1985.
We will continue to meander through this list in similar fashion in future installments, so stay tuned.
(Pictured: Bob and Ray, 1951.)
The death last week of Bob Elliott sent me to the public library for Bob and Ray, Keener Than Most Persons, a 2013 biography of the team by veteran TV writer David Pollock. Among the fascinating facts about Bob and Ray’s career is just how fast they rose to the top of the heap in radio—after starting on local radio in Boston in 1946, they were offered a weekly show on WNBC in New York in 1951, and went national not long after.
Bob and Ray did a daily morning show on WNBC. Their main competitor was the man who ruled morning drive-time in the nation’s biggest market, and who is sometimes credited with developing the modern morning-show format: Gene Rayburn, whose show on WNEW, first with Jack Lescoulie and later with Dee Finch, was #1 in the late 40s and early 50s.
Like Bob and Ray eventually did, Gene Rayburn moved into TV, an easy jump given that New York was the nation’s media capital in the 50s. He was both a game-show guest and host by 1953, and was the announcer on the original Tonight show with Steve Allen. Rayburn hosted the original incarnation of Match Game throughout the 1960s, but he remained on the radio all the while, appearing on NBC’s weekend Monitor service from 1961 through 1973. He left Monitor for the 70s Match Game revival, which was taped in Hollywood, although he never moved to California. He commuted across the country for the tapings from his home in Osterville, Massachusetts.
Rayburn’s original aspiration had been to act, and he never lost it. In 1961, when Dick Van Dyke left the lead role in Bye Bye Birdie for his own TV show, Rayburn took the part. As late as 1991, he appeared in a summer-stock production of La Cage Aux Folles. Rayburn died in 1999 at age 81.
As for Bob and Ray, their NBC gig in New York eventually had them working 12-to-18 hour days doing both local and national radio shows six days a week. They moved into TV in the early 50s and after appearing in a series of wildly successful ads for Piel’s Beer, they opened their own creative firm to develop advertising. Although they maintained a long-term relationship with NBC-TV, they eventually moved to WINS radio in New York. Like Rayburn, they appeared on Monitor during its 19-year run, often hanging around all weekend just in case they were needed to fill a few minutes here or there. Their last major gig was on National Public Radio. Ray Goulding died in 1990 at age 62; Elliott was 92.
(Pioneering DJ Alan Freed began playing R&B late at night on a station in Cleveland, but his big break came when he landed the night shift at WINS. While he prowled the nighttime, banging along with the beat on a copy of the Manhattan phone book, Bob and Ray were improvising their way through the mornings. WINS was also the flagship for New York Yankees baseball at the time, so add legendary broadcaster Mel Allen to the list of indelible personalities on a single radio station.)
Note to Patrons: If you are a subscriber to this blog via e-mail, you have received a couple of e-mails recently that led to dead blog links. This is due to operator error on my part, although WordPress is partly to blame. They have recently changed the interface I use at this end, and they’ve made it far easier to publish a post accidentally when one is merely intending to schedule it. I apologize for the confusion, and I think I’ve got it figured out now, so it shouldn’t happen again.
(Pictured: the Los Angeles band Ratt. This is why they called it “hair metal.”)
If you are not as old as I (and some days, I feel like nobody is as old as I), allow me to take you back only as far as the 80s for the latest installment of One Week in the 40, a series about records to last a single week in the Billboard Top 40. See what’s on the flip.
(Pictured: the Eagles on stage, 1979.)
The Eagles disintegrated in ugly fashion in 1980, brawling after a concert, and then releasing Eagles Live, a two-disc set memorable for “Seven Bridges Road,” and for being the least spontaneous live album in history, reported to have been doctored extensively in the studio after the fact.
Two years later, with pop music on the brink of massive change thanks to MTV and Michael Jackson, the Eagles released Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 2. Here’s a ranking of the album’s 10 tracks.
10. “After the Thrill Is Gone.” The only pre-Hotel California track on the album. “Please Come Home for Christmas,” a substantial Hot 100 hit in 1978, would have been a far better choice, but it wouldn’t see an official re-release until 2000.
9. “I Can’t Tell You Why.” Timothy B. Schmit’s moment in the sun does not sound very Eagle-ish, except for the guitar solos.
8. “Seven Bridges Road.” This song had been in the Eagles’ repertoire from the beginning, so there must be bootlegs of it performed with Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner in the band. I haven’t found one yet, however, and I would like to.
7. “The Long Run.” When the Eagles played this live, they referred to it as a tribute to the sound of Memphis. Not much of that sound gets onto the studio version, although the version on Eagles Live brings it.
6. “Life in the Fast Lane.” If you’re looking for a document of the coked-up 70s, you can scarcely do better. I liked it better in the hard-rockin’ summer of 1977 than I do now.
5. “Victim of Love.” Had the Eagles chosen to go more than three singles deep on Hotel California, “Victim of Love” would have made an excellent fourth. This is the sort of thing they never did before Joe Walsh came along.
4. “Heartache Tonight.” You’d probably have to go back to the Beatles to find a release that was as eagerly anticipated as this one in the fall of 1979.
3. “Hotel California.” This has become a polarizing record over four decades; to some people it signifies everything that’s wrong with classic rock as a radio format and dad rock as a genre. But as a creative accomplishment, it’s outdone by very little in the post-Beatles era. I know every note and nuance by heart, but I still dig it every time I hear it.
2. “The Sad Café.” This is a song I’ve written about before, as perfect a capper to the Eagles’ recorded career as side 2 of Abbey Road was for the Beatles. Anyone who has ever loved something, lost it, and wished they could have it back for just a little while, can relate to “The Sad Café”—so that’s everybody.
(If you are keeping score, that’s three straight comparisons of the Eagles to the Beatles. I regret nothing.)
1. “New Kid in Town.” Critic Stephen Erlewine wrote about Glenn Frey’s solo work and made a point about “New Kid in Town” that never really occurred to me before: as a concept album, Hotel California is more effective without it. “New Kid in Town” is a wistful song about winners and losers, while the rest of the album is all cocaine fog. Frey never sang better than he does on the bridge and the last verse, especially:
There’s talk on the street, it’s there to remind you
It doesn’t really matter which side you’re on
You’re walking away and they’re talking behind you
They will never forget you til somebody new comes along
Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 2 reached only #52 on the Billboard 200. It and its gazillion-selling predecessor have been replaced, first by the sketchy Selected Works: 1972-1999, then by The Very Best of the Eagles, which was released in 2001 and updated in 2003. (Both Greatest Hits albums remain in print, however.)
(I brand Selected Works sketchy because each of its four discs runs about 60 minutes, so there’s room for more. It covers the band’s career from Eagles to Hell Freezes Over and includes a handful of previously unreleased tracks, two of which are cobbled-together bits of outtakes and not worth much. The fourth disc is from a show in Los Angeles on December 31, 1999, notable for a version of “Funky New Year” and “Take It to the Limit” sung by Frey.)
For most artists, an album that sells 11 million copies would not be a disappointment. Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 2, did that many, yet it probably was.
(Pictured: the Eagles, at the height of the hairy 70s.)
Everybody with an interest in music can spin a theory for why Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) by the Eagles, released 40 years ago this winter, became what the RIAA considers the #1 album of all time. Its popularity was remarkable: within a week of its release, it became the first album to be certified platinum, having sold at least a million copies in the United States. (It was not the first million-selling album, of course—merely the first to get the new platinum certification.) The album hit #1 on March 13, 1976, and stayed for four weeks; it would spend an additional week at the top starting on April 17th. Although it never topped the charts again, it would never stop selling, and it’s currently sitting at #11 on the Billboard 200 following the death of Glenn Frey.
I am not here today to spin a theory, however. This post is a ranking of the 10 songs on the album, with brief annotations.
10. “Desperado.” On an album where every song could be considered definitive of the band’s sound, something has to rank at the bottom. “Desperado” is a pretty song and a fine performance, but I’m ranking it here for radio geek reasons. A program director of mine said it’s one of the hardest records to schedule because it’s so slow and so sparse. “Desperado”: what radio jingles and sweepers are for.
9. “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” On the radio as 1972 turned to 1973, when it reached #22 on the Hot 100, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” helps me understand why certain critics and listeners hate the Eagles so much. It feels as if it were molded out of plastic, every note and every line calculated.
8. “Tequila Sunrise.” As unlikely as it seems, this was pretty much a stiff on its single release, getting only to #62 as the followup to “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” It’s every bit as slick as its predecessor, but it ranks a notch above because it’s one of Glenn Frey’s best vocals.
7. “Witchy Woman.” The anti-“Desperado.” On the radio, it sounds great next to almost anything, with a killer introduction DJs love.
6. “Take It Easy.” The first song on side one of the first Eagles album, and from the first second, a fitting announcement of what was to come over the next eight years. (And the next 44.) The platonic ideal of country rock.
5. “One of These Nights.” There has never been another record, by the Eagles or anybody else, that sounds quite like this, from whatever Randy Meisner is doing to his bass on the intro to Don Felder’s highly distorted guitar to Don Henley’s falsetto, so high it it must have hurt to sing that way.
4. “Already Gone.” The Eagles were a straight-up country-rock band for only their first two albums; On the Border was the transitional album, and “Already Gone” the transitional track. You can still hear the country, but they’re clearly a rock band now.
3. “Lyin’ Eyes.” Had I been programming this album, I might have left “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Take It to the Limit” off, given that they were both still on the radio as 1975 turned to 1976. The main candidates for a replacement would have been “Outlaw Man,” a #59 single from Desperado, or “James Dean,” from On the Border, which peaked at #77.
2. “Take It to the Limit.” “Lyin’ Eyes” had gone recurrent by early 1976, but “Take It to the Limit” was in hot rotations when Their Greatest Hits was released. It’s one of those songs that didn’t mean all that much to me in the winter of 1976. But about the time I hit my mid-30s, it began rising up my chart. Its tone of weary resignation comes from the realization that you have to keep striving even though you’re tired and would like to give up—which is something you can’t understand when you’re 16.
1. “Best of My Love.” The most deeply romantic song they ever recorded, full of beautiful sounds, that wall of acoustic guitars and the shimmering electric. I am slain absolutely dead, every damn time, by the vocal harmonies on “oh, sweet darlin’.”
The Eagles went back to the greatest-hits well in 1982, but lightning did not strike again like it did the first time. Read about that in a future installment.
(Pictured: Paul Kantner, circa 1991.)
Allow me to be the ten millionth writer to lead a piece by saying that 2016 has already been terribly hard on rock stars: David Bowie, Glenn Frey, and now Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, who died yesterday at age 74.
I never saw Bowie except on TV. I saw the Eagles live in 1980. But I had a closer encounter with Kantner.
At some point in the early 90s, Kantner, Jack Casady, and Papa John Creach, with some other musicians, went on the road as Jefferson Starship: the Next Generation. And one year they played a show at Riverboat Days in Clinton, Iowa. My job was to introduce the band onstage before the show, as local DJs have done from the dawn of time.
This task is often less glamorous than it appears. I introduced REO Speedwagon once, and although all the members were walking around backstage, I didn’t meet any of them. When I introduced Steppenwolf, I never set eyes on John Kay, who apparently stayed on the bus until 30 seconds before the show was to start.
But the Jefferson Starship show was different. I was introduced to Kantner, Casady, and Prairie Prince, former drummer from the Tubes, who was in the new band—and we spent a half-hour just hanging out backstage, listening to the opening act. It was so pleasant—and they were so normal—that I had to keep reminding myself that Kantner and Casady were practically present at the creation, San Francisco, Summer of Love, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair, the whole bit, and here they were telling me about their lives on the road for these many years. Although I have seen stories this morning describing Kantner as “prickly,” he certainly wasn’t on that night.
The best part came when the opening act was finished. There’s often a gap between the local DJ introduction and the appearance of the band. For instance, Steppenwolf’s road manager had told me to say, “In a moment, John Kay and Steppenwolf”—but the moment lasted nearly 10 minutes. On this night, somebody from Riverboat Days came backstage and said, “OK, Jim, you’re on,” and I bid good night to Kantner, Casady, and Prince, and made ready to go do my schtick.
But as I was leaving, Kantner grabbed me by the sleeve and said, “Wait . . . go up with us.”
And so we all took the stage together, members of the rock ‘n’ roll brotherhood.
WSUP Update: My old college radio station has yet to decide whether to become a Wisconsin Public Radio affiliate. Wednesday night’s meeting did not reach a conclusion, although one staff member indicates that WPR affiliation is not imminent and may not happen at all.
I have learned a couple of things this week: WSUP approached WPR about affiliation, not the other way around, so it’s not a power grab of the type attempted in the 70s at WSUP and accomplished elsewhere in more recent times. The WPR regional manager who’s been involved in the discussions, Dean Kallenbach, was the WSUP student general manager when I got to Platteville (and he let me sleep on his couch in the summer of 1979 when I was a little baby DJ working weekends in Dubuque). He wrote an extensive post about the situation at the Facebook group discussing the change.
And also: WSUP is currently running on a shoestring. Where we had over 100 staff members, it currently has about 20. Most of us were radio-television majors, but that major doesn’t exist anymore. WSUP staffers are either media-studies majors or students with different majors entirely who do radio as a sideline. So what’s going on down there has little to do with student apathy—a conclusion several of us jumped to initially, and something we should be embarrassed about. It is, as I guessed in my post on Wednesday, mostly a sign of the times.
What WSUP’s management team is doing is the exact opposite of a sellout: they’re looking for a way to keep the place viable. Some college radio stations have had to surrender their licenses entirely, and WSUP, the oldest student-run station in the University of Wisconsin System, doesn’t want to be next.