The Soul of ’71

(Pictured: the Staple Singers.)

The standard narrative of pop music in the 1970s is that it was escapist, shallow, goofy, and not as all as serious as the pop music of the 1960s had been. That’s halfway accurate, but the shallow, goofy escapism doesn’t arrive in earnest until after we cross a certain dividing line in the middle of the 1970s.

The sociopolitical dividing line starts to draw itself with the oil shock of late 1973, through the unraveling of Watergate in 1974 and the deepening recession in 1975. In pop culture, TV turns away from relevance (All in the Family) to escapism (Happy Days), and the formula for a hit movie changes from literary storytelling (Chinatown, The Godfather Part 2) to spectacle (Jaws). In pop music, the gritty realities of soul music are replaced by the dance-don’t-think ethos of disco.

These are all generalizations, and therefore prone to being wrong. And it’s true that there were continuities from one half of the 70s and the other (the enduring popularity of classic rock, for example). But it’s nevertheless striking just how different pop culture and especially pop music became in the last half of the 70s compared to the first half.

I thought about this while listening to the American Top 40 show from November 20, 1971, about which I wrote a bit last week. The ratio of serious to silly is far greater than what we sometimes perceive the 70s norm to be. Top to bottom, it’s one of the strongest shows I’ve ever heard.

The quantity of great soul music is astounding. In the previous installment, I singled out Denise LaSalle, the 8th Day, the Temptations, and Donnie Elbert. But from the last two hours, you can add the Staple Singers (“Respect Yourself”), Lou Rawls (“A Natural Man”), Al Green (“Tired of Being Alone”), Aretha Franklin (“Rock Steady”), Marvin Gaye (“Inner City Blues”), Sly and the Family Stone (“Family Affair,” the hottest record in the nation at that moment), Michael Jackson (“Got to Be There”), the Chi-Lites (“Have You Seen Her”), and Isaac Hayes (whose “Theme from ‘Shaft'” was the new #1 song). In addition, several artists not strictly considered soul acts wear their influences proudly: Dennis Coffey, Van Morrison, and Delaney and Bonnie from the first hour, plus Lee Michaels (“Do You Know What I Mean”), Santana (“Everybody’s Everything”), and even the Osmonds (“Yo Yo”).

(“Everybody’s Everything,” from the week’s #1 album, Santana III, is a wonder, rockin’ with such wild abandon it feels like it’s going to fly apart into a million pieces, but it never does.)

A handful of classic-rock staples were among that week’s top hits: “Imagine,” “Maggie May,” “Questions 67 & 68,” “I’d Love to Change the World.” Neither the Five Man Electrical Band’s “Absolutely Right” nor “One Fine Morning” by Lighthouse entered the classic-rock canon, but both would be frequently anthologized come the CD era, which is a different type of eternal life. Future oldies-radio hits are many as well: “Old Fashioned Love Song,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “One Tin Soldier,” “Two Divided by Love,” “Baby I’m-a Want You,” “Gypsies Tramps and Thieves.”

Any given week of the 1970s has its share of amber-trapped moments, songs destined to disappear from history after being dropped from the current rotation. This week they are remarkably few: “Desiderata” and “Easy Loving,” the David Cassidy cover of “Cherish” and the Fifth Dimension cover of “Never My Love,” plus the theme from Summer of ’42.

Not all of the songs on the radio during that Thanksgiving week—when D. B. Cooper jumped out of the airplane, war threatened between India and Pakistan, and Nebraska and Oklahoma played one of college football’s most famous games—remained part of the pantheon for years to come. Nevertheless it’s striking just how great they were, all at once.


(Pictured: the British group Ashton Gardner and Dyke who put one indelible hit on the American charts, but for a single week.)

What we’re dealing with here is the latest installment of One Week in the 40, a series examining all of the records that spent a single week on the Billboard Top 40 between 1964 and 1986. What follows are a few more records that represent their performers’ lone visit to the Hot 100.

—In 1971, “Resurrection Shuffle” by Ashton Gardner and Dyke spent the week of August 7 at #40. But it went to #5 at WLS in Chicago in September, and it was a Top 10 hit in San Francisco, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Cleveland, Boise, Vancouver, Cincinnati, Louisville, Toronto, and other places. It is an absolute rager that should be played as loud as possible.

—Soul singer Freddie North was the first to record “She’s All I Got,” and he took it to #39 for the week of November 27, 1971. Johnny Paycheck put it out at the same time and went to #2 on the country charts, but his version—the better of the two, I think—made it only to #91 pop. The song was written by Gary U.S. Bonds and Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams.

—“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road has been a favorite at this blog since always, originally produced by Kenny Rogers but recut by new producers to soften its original, more sex-and-drugs-oriented lyric. It’s yet another example of a phenomenon we’ll see frequently in this series: a song that was a fairly big hit in a lot of places, but not enough places at the same time to push it high up the national chart. It topped out at #40 for the week of June 2, 1973.

“No Charge” by Melba Montgomery was a #1 hit on the Billboard country chart, written by the great Harlan Howard, who wrote or co-wrote the country monuments “I Fall to Pieces” and “Heartaches by the Number,” among others. Compared to those, this is a bit of a trifle, but its sentimental, heart-tugging domesticity was practically guaranteed to be a smash. It reached #39 for the week of June 8, 1974. A cover version by a man—J.J. Barrie—would hit #1 in the UK exactly two years later.

—“Dance Across the Floor” by Jimmy “Bo” Horne is easily mistaken for something by KC and the Sunshine Band, but the fact that it’s not KC and the Sunshine Band is a distinction without a difference, and I say that as a fan of KC and the Sunshine Band. “Dance Across the Floor” spent the week of June 24, 1978, at #38.

—You will notice that there are some pretty famous records in this series: “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan, for example, and also “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. It’s more famous for being the first song ever played on MTV and not for its success on the radio, hitting #40 for the week of December 15, 1979. Of its 56 citations at ARSA, only 11 of them are from American stations; the rest are from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

—The Jones Girls backed Diana Ross in the late 70s and made “You’re Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else” with Gamble and Huff, although you’d never guess it from the straight-up disco beat. It reached #38 for the week of August 18, 1979, and spent 11 weeks on the Hot 100 in all. The record was a monster R&B hit and certified gold, one of very few records on this list to achieve that milestone.

Coming in the next installment, whenever I get around to it: more extremely big stars just nicking the Top 40.

One Day in Your Life: November 27, 1977

(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.

Old-Fashioned Love Songs

(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.

We Love You, Yes We Do

(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.

Good Timin’

(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.

Continue reading →


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 670 other followers

%d bloggers like this: