(Pictured: Linda Ronstadt. As if you needed me to tell you.)
November 27, 1977, was a Sunday. Voters in the African country of Upper Volta approve a new constitution. In the Upper Midwest, heavy snow falls. In Green Bay, weather forecasters predict six inches will fall during the Packers’ game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings win 13-6. Elsewhere in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons beat Tampa Bay 17-0; it’s the 25th straight loss for the Buccaneers, who have yet to win a regular-season game since joining the NFL the previous season. Canada’s football championship, the Grey Cup game, is played in Montreal; after a Friday snowstorm, groundskeepers put salt on the Olympic Stadium turf to melt it, but plunging temperatures on the weekend turned the field to a sheet of ice. Despite the conditions, Montreal defeats Edmonton 41-6. Future NFL player Adam Archuleta is born. In the Sunday Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown asks Lucy for a great truth.
On TV tonight, CBS presents the theatrical movie Three Days of the Condor. NBC has a musical adaptation of The Hobbit, A Doonesbury Special, and highlights of the Miss World pageant. A Doonesbury Special will be nominated for an Academy Award and win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. ABC has The Six Million Dollar Man and a special titled Oscar Presents the War Movies and John Wayne. In England, TV viewers are still talking about what happened the night before, when the evening newscast on a regional channel was interrupted by a message from “Vrillon, a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command,” which advises humanity of “the course you must take to avoid the disaster which threatens your world, and the beings on our worlds around you.” The source of the broadcast will never be identified, although it will be reported that Ashtar’s origins were in an American UFO cult that first appeared during the 1940s.
The top movie at the box office is Star Wars, which has been the weekly champ since late June. Rush continues its A Farewell to Kings tour in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Jerry Garcia Band plays the Palladium in New York City. The Talking Heads play Nashville and KISS plays Kansas City. The Spinners and Dorothy Moore wrap up a weeklong stand at Mill Run Theater in suburban Chicago. At WLS, “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave takes over the #1 spot from Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” which had held the top spot for seven weeks and is now #2. Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” is at #3. “Come Sail Away” by Styx makes a strong move from #11 to #4; also making a big leap is the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” moving from #21 to #10. Other big movers include Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou” and “Isn’t It Time” by the Babys. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is the #1 album in Chicago for the 25th week.
Perspective From the Present: This day was the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. My family alternated Thanksgivings between sets of grandparents. We’d have dinner with one on Thanksgiving Day and the other on Sunday, and then switch it up the next year. I don’t remember where we went in 1977. Dinner with my mother’s family was a big, noisy event—there were 17 of us if all the cousins showed up, and by 1977 some of the cousins were bringing significant others. Dinner with my father’s family was much quieter; he was an only child, so there was just the five of us plus Grandpa and Grandma. I don’t remember preferring one dinner or the other back then.
Yesterday, my grandparents long gone and my own cousins scattered to the winds, we were 12 around the table, still the five of us plus significant others and kids, and the big wheel rolled on.
(Pictured: Van Morrison at work in the studio in 1971.)
I have written before about how weird the first hour of the typical American Top 40 show can be, thick with hits that never were, novelty records, oddball format crossovers from country or R&B—fun listening for geeks, even as they make radio station program directors cringe. The early 70s shows often have a lot of these, and often beyond the first hour. For that reason, a lot of AT40 affiliates rarely carry shows from 1970 through 1972. In weeks when Premiere Radio Networks offers a show from one of those years, it also offers an alternate show from later in the decade, and stations are free to choose the one they want. (In 2015, they’ve started doing this with 80s shows, too.)
This past weekend, Premiere offered the show from November 20, 1971—and the alternate was a Christmas show. AT40 has offered Christmas alternates in years past, but this is the first year they’ve started doing so in November, likely responding to the number of affiliates who go all-Christmas well before Thanksgiving Day. Fortunately for the stations who rarely carry an early 70s show, the 11/20/71 show is remarkably solid. In fact, you’d have a hard time finding an AT40 show from any year that started stronger than this one. The first hour is remarkable.
40. “I’d Love to Change the World”/Ten Years After. Spending just two weeks at #40, “I’d Love to Change the World” would nevertheless become one of the core songs of the album-rock format, played over and over and over again for the next 25 years or so.
39. “An Old Fashioned Love Song”/Three Dog Night. In its first week on the chart, and heard in its great 45RPM configuration, which is different from the one heard widely on oldies radio, at least until Three Dog Night got too old for oldies radio. Listen for the differences in the guitar, the backing vocals, and the fade.
38. “Trapped By a Thing Called Love”/Denise LaSalle. Fine Southern soul. Dig it or GTFO.
37. “You’ve Got to Crawl (Before You Walk)”/8th Day. Another deep soul trip from the group who sang “She’s Not Just Another Woman” earlier in 1971.
36. “Wild Night”/Van Morrison. “The inside jukebox blows out just like thunder.”
35. “Only You Know and I Know”/Delaney and Bonnie. Right at the nexus of country and blues, and a song that would have sounded weird and dated had it come along a year later.
On the original show, there were two commercial breaks within these five songs. On the recent repeat, all five were in the same segment. That’s how you start a radio show.
34. “One Fine Morning”/Lighthouse. Heard in its 45 configuration, which is in mono.
33. “Scorpio”/Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band. Hot damn, this show has been smokin’ for like 20 minutes now.
32. “Superstar”/Temptations. Casey notes that this is the third different song titled “Superstar” to hit the Top 40 in 1971, preceded by the Murray Head “Superstar” from Jesus Christ Superstar and the Carpenters’ cover of Leon Russell’s “Superstar.”
At #31, the spell is broken with pianist Peter Nero’s instrumental “Theme From ‘Summer of ’42’.” But not for long.
30. “Where Did Our Love Go”/Donnie Elbert. A thumpin’, keyboard-driven version of the Supremes hit. Forgotten now, but insanely great.
The David Cassidy version of “Cherish,” a Partridge Family record in all but name, is at #29. It’s not remotely as good as the Association’s original, but what is?
28. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”/Joan Baez. Your mileage may vary on this; Joan changed up the lyric and softened the power of the Civil War story the Band originally told, but I didn’t know that in 1971.
27. “One Tin Soldier”/Coven. From the movie Billy Jack, which was released in 1971 but did not become a hit until it was re-released in 1973. We have noted before how “One Tin Soldier” is an artifact from a very specific moment in pop-culture history.
And with that, the first hour of the November 20, 1971, AT40 show comes to a close. I may write about the rest of it, or I may not. I haven’t listened to it yet.
(Pictured: Beatle fans, whose devotion during the Fabs’ February 1964 visit to New York inspired a hit song.)
Here’s another installment of a series called One Week in the 40, which discusses exactly what the name implies: records that spent a single week in the Billboard Top 40 at some point between 1964 and 1986. This time, it’s singles that represented not just the performer’s only Top 40 hit, but their lone entry on the Hot 100. Let’s take them chronologically.
—“We Love You Beatles” by the Carefrees reached #39 for the week of April 11, 1964, a week in which the Beatles had 15 singles in the Hot 100 and five of the Top 10. “We Love You Beatles” was based on “We Love You Conrad,” a song from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Fans outside the Plaza Hotel in New York City during the Beatles’ visit for The Ed Sullivan Show in February chanted it, and this record was born. One of the Carefrees, Lynn Cornell, was married to Andy White, the session drummer who sat in on the Beatles’ “Love Me Do,” and who died earlier this month at age 85.
—“I’m Into Something Good” by Earl-Jean (of Earl-Jean and the Cookies) is the original recording of the song that would become the first American hit for Herman’s Hermits. It spent the week of August 8, 1964, at #39. It did especially big business in Detroit and St. Louis, where it made the Top 10 on multiple stations.
—“Shaggy Dog” by Mickey Lee Lane has made an appearance at this blog before. Last November I wrote, “‘Shaggy Dog’ is all guitar stomp and chanting, and it would likely have scored pretty high on the parental annoyance scale.” It was a mid-chart hit in lots of places, Top 10 in a few, and #1 at KOMA in Oklahoma City for the week of November 5, 1964. Like “I’m Into Something Good,” it caught on slowly, peaking in some places before it had charted in others, which tamped down its national number: 39, for the week of November 28.
—The Marvelows were a soul group from Chicago. “I Do” reached #37 for the week of July 3, 1965; a live version by the J. Geils Band made it to #24 in 1982.
—There are many parallels between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. In 1966, Buddy Starcher ran them down in “History Repeats Itself.” It reached #2 on the country chart and spent the week of May 14, 1966, at #39 on the pop chart.
—“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant Garde spent the week of October 26, 1968 at #40. The Avant Garde was a Nashville-based duo, Bubba Fowler and Chuck Woolery, backed by studio musicians. Woolery would go on to greater fame as a game-show host, although his first network gig was co-host of a TV revival of Your Hit Parade that ran in the summer of 1974.
—During the week of November 16, 1968, “Funky Judge” by Bull and the Matadors sat at #39. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In had premiered earlier that year and propelled “here come the judge” into the pop-culture lexicon, spawning four different Hot 100 hits containing the phrase. “Funky Judge” isn’t one of them, but having the word in the title couldn’t have hurt.
There are a few more of these to cover, and we’ll do so in the next installment.
(Pictured: The Beach Boys do a public appearance to promote their latest album, 1979.)
The concept of the Top 40 dates back to the early 50s, and the famous epiphany of Todd Storz, who sat in an Omaha restaurant for several hours one night listening to patrons play the same songs on the jukebox over and over. At the end of the night, a waitress went over to the box, put in a couple of coins, and played the same songs she’d been hearing all night long. It dawned on Storz that perhaps his radio station might prosper by concentrating on currently popular songs repeated frequently.
By the 1960s, “Top 40” was the shorthand term for hit-oriented pop music radio—a manageable number of songs that a station could turn over entirely in three hours or so—and it stuck until the early 80s, when it was replaced by “contemporary hit radio,” or CHR. If you cruise through the charts at ARSA you’ll see that playlist and/or chart sizes vary widely; some radio stations charted more than 40 songs and some less. But 40 is the number that captures the imagination. And so reaching the Top 40, especially the Top 40 in Billboard magazine, the bible of the recording industry, is an accomplishment.
All of this is the introduction to another ongoing series. I’ve done a couple similar series in the past. Down in the Bottom was about the one-hit artists to peak between #90 and #100 in Billboard from 1955 through 1986. Bubbling Under Adventures looked at all of the songs to peak at #101 from 1955 through 1986. The new series that starts today (and which will appear intermittently, whenever I get around to it) will examine every song that spent just a single week in the Top 40 between 1964 and 1986.
There about 150 such songs. Almost exactly half came between 1964 and 1969, while the other half came between 1970 and 1986. The year 1964 had the most, with 17, just nosing out 1965 with 16; the fewest came in 1982 and 1986, with only one each. Ten artists have two songs on the list; everybody else has just one. Some of the songs are quite famous despite their relatively low placing on the Hot 100; others have been completely forgotten.
Rather than going through the list in chronological order, we’ll jump around. Let’s start with some of the most famous acts in history.
(Pictured: the Spinners on The Midnight Special, circa 1975.)
I was in the car the other day, and on the run. On the run from work I don’t want to do, from decisions I don’t know how to make, from the clutter in my office, from my stupid face in the mirror. Casey Kasem and I hit the road for the last part of the AT40 show from October 25, 1975.
There were some solid songs in the second half of the show: “S.O.S.,” “Low Rider,” “Lady Blue,” “It Only Takes a Minute,” “Ballroom Blitz,” “Who Loves You.” Casey busted out some good trivia: Chicago has the most Top-10 hits without reaching #1, and Elton John’s “Island Girl” (which jumped from #36 to #8) is his 13th Top-10, moving him ahead of the Carpenters for the most Top 10s in the 70s. He noted Linda Ronstadt’s double-sided hit at #12 and played “Love Is a Rose” instead of “Heat Wave” (which showed up as an optional extra later in the hour), and he reminded us that the Ritchie Family’s “Brazil” is a remake of the 1943 Xavier Cugat hit. For the second time this week, he mentioned his work outside of AT40, plugging the made-for-TV movie The Night That Panicked America, scheduled for Halloween night, in which he had a small role.
All very interesting, yes. Enough to dispel the gloom, no.
(Pictured: ABBA on The Midnight Special, deep in the 70s.)
Here’s the second part of my completely arbitrary and therefore highly debatable list of the best #13 hits of the Hot 100 era, the first part of which appeared on Friday the 13th.
1972: Rod Stewart’s “You Wear It Well” is the pick by by the thinnest of margins over “Roundabout” by Yes and “Anticipation” by Carly Simon.
1973: Only two songs peaked at #13 in this year. I’m going with King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” over Pink Floyd’s “Money” because of course I am.
1974: Here I’m going off the board again, ignoring Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” and “Skin Tight” by the Ohio Players in favor of the Pointer Sisters’ “Fairytale.” That’s one you’re gonna want to click if you’ve never heard it.
1975: In yet another close call, I’ll take Al Green’s “L-O-V-E (Love)” over Chicago’s “Harry Truman.”
1976: “Fernando” by ABBA gets the call here, as much for the associations I have with the song as for the song itself, but you should be used to that line of thinking by now.
1977: “Livin’ Thing” by the Electric Light Orchestra.
1978: “Turn to Stone” by the Electric Light Orchestra.
1979: “Suspicions” by the Electric Light Orchestra—er, Eddie Rabbitt—for its sultry summery vibe.
1980: The much-beloved-around-here “Pilot of the Airwaves” by Charlie Dore, about which I have written before.
1981: There are only two to choose from in this year, “Somebody’s Knockin'” by Terri Gibbs and “Cool Love” by Pablo Cruise. I’m going with “Somebody’s Knockin’,” but you could talk me out of it.
1982: “Waiting on a Friend” by the Rolling Stones.
1983: “Lawyers in Love” by Jackson Browne. (Off topic: The Mrs. and I got married in 1983, and we had a giant poster of the Lawyers in Love cover hanging over the couch in one of our first living rooms. Even though neither of us is a particularly big Jackson Browne fan, we really loved that cover.)
1984: I’m not wild about any of the seven records that peaked at #13 in this year, but Culture Club’s “It’s a Miracle” is the most distinctive of the bunch.
1985: One way to play this game is to ask yourself, “Which of these songs would I like to hear right now?” Answer for 1985: “Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
1986: Three to choose from, and I’m going with Jeffrey Osborne’s “You Should Be Mine” over Bob Seger’s “American Storm” and “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora, because that “can you woo-woo-woo” hook is too big to ignore.
1987: “Back in the High Life Again” by Steve Winwood.
1988: Any list of “world’s most boring” that doesn’t include Glenn Frey’s solo work is incomplete. “True Love,” in which he gets his Detroit soul man on, is a bit of an exception.
1989: “Sacred Emotion” was part of Donny Osmond’s off-the-wall late-80s comeback, and is better than it has any right to be.
1990: It’s probably cheating, but I’m going with the Righteous Brothers’ reissue of their 1965 hit “Unchained Melody,” from the Ghost soundtrack.
1991: “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn.
1992: “Would I Lie to You” by Charles and Eddie is a classic one-shot, reaching #1 or #2 in nine countries around the world without resulting in a successful followup.
By 1993, I had grown so unfamiliar with the current music scene that I don’t recognize a lot of songs that charted far higher, let alone the #13s. So that’s where we’ll bring this thing to a close.