New Year’s: It Has a Flavor

(Edited a bit to improve readability and add some links.)

James Taylor once sang that the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time. Well, fire up, James—we’re turning the page on another year. Let’s do it as usual around here—by revisiting some year-end radio countdowns.

One of the best online tributes to a classic Top 40 station is Jeff Roteman’s KQV site. He’s currently featuring this Pittsburgh station’s yearend surveys, which date all the way back to 1962. I’ve not seen any others going back that far, so let’s check them out, top and bottom with notes in between.

1962:
#1: “I Can’t Stop Loving You”/Ray Charles
#40: “I Know”/Barbara George
Comment: I am told that “Alley Cat” by Dutch pianist Bent Fabric (#27) was my first favorite song. My mother says that I had a little dance I used to do to it. I was two years old.

1963:
#1: “So Much in Love”/Tymes
#50: “Just One Look”/Doris Troy
Comment: Strong evidence of the 1963 doo-wop revival at the top of this list, with the Tymes (and damn, “So Much in Love” is a beautiful record) and the Cleftones, but also with lesser lights like the Five Dutones and the Delcos in the Top 10.

1964:
#1: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/Beatles
#50: “Little Honda”/Hondells
Comment: What British Invasion? The Beatles also had Number Two (“She Loves You”), but you’ve got to go down to Number 15 before you find another British artist on this list, and there are only 11 British records in all, counting Millie Small, who was born in Jamaica. Plus, “Louie Louie” comes in at Number 4 after being Number 38 the year before.

1965:
#1: “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”/Righteous Brothers
#50 “Silhouettes”/Herman’s Hermits
Comment: Local Pittsburgh act the Fenways check in at Number 11 with “Walk.” More about them, and about the Pittsburgh music scene in the 60s, here. Weirdest segue: “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” by Vic Dana (#40) into “Shotgun” by Junior Walker and the All-Stars (#39).

1966:
#1: “Monday Monday”/Mamas and the Papas
#40: “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”/Jimmy Ruffin
Comment: A seriously strong list. What, apart from “Ballad of the Green Berets,” hasn’t been played to death on the radio ever since?

1967:
#1: “I’m a Believer”/Monkees
#40: “Get on Up”/Esquires
Weirdest entry: “Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen at Number 13. Check the list and hear an aircheck of the 1967 countdown featuring longtime KQV jock Chuck Brinkman here.

1968:
#1: “Hey Jude”-“Revolution”/Beatles
#114: “Mission Impossible Theme”/Lalo Schifrin
Comment: Despite the size of the list, there’s almost nothing on it you wouldn’t know. Maybe not “Sally Had a Party” by the Flavor (which you can hear at the group’s MySpace page), but almost nothing else. List and aircheck of the Top 114 countdown featuring future WLS night guy Kris Erik Stevens here.

1969:
#1: “Sugar Sugar”/Archies
#114: “The Train”/1910 Fruitgum Company
Comment: How is it that the R&B-flavored psychedelic rocker by the Illusion, “Did You See Her Eyes,” which made it to Number 43 for the year in Pittsburgh, just nicked the Top 40 for a few weeks in the rest of the country? Best segue: “Baby Baby Don’t Cry” by the Miracles (#67) into “Color Him Father” by the Winstons (#66).

1970:
#1: “The Rapper”/The Jaggerz
#114: “Joanne”/Michael Nesmith
Weirdest entries: “Mongoose” by Elephant’s Memory (#12) and “Black Night” by Deep Purple (#85). Somebody at KQV dug the heavy psychedelic stuff. There’s an aircheck of the countdown along with the list here.

1971:
#1: “It’s Too Late”/Carole King
#114: “Joanne”/Michael Nesmith
Comment: Apart from “Joanne” clocking in at #114 for the second year in a row, there’s lots to either dig or scratch your head over on this list. The weirdest entry is either “Chicago” by Graham Nash at Number Two or “Once You Understand” by Think at Number 80, about which there’s more below. Best segues: “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard it Should Be” by Carly Simon (#29) into “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations (#28); “Lucky Man” by Emerson Lake and Palmer (#13) into “Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes (#12). Weirdest: “Rainy Days and Mondays” by the Carpenters (#40) into “Groove Me” by King Floyd (#39).

There are no lists posted for 1972 and 1973, which is too bad, because those were the Jeff Christie years at KQV. Spend some time at the KQV tribute site to learn his true identity.

1974:
#1: “Mandy”/Barry Manilow
#114: “Top of the World”/Carpenters.
Comment: A note at the bottom of this list says “it is not an accurate ranking for 1974.” I’m not sure what that means, because the list accurately sums up the least rockin’ year of the 1970s. Weirdest entry: “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” by Paul Davis (#17), a faux-country bowl of cliches about an aging rodeo cowboy delivered in a style so wussy that it makes “Mandy” sound like “Sweet Home Alabama.”

But let’s ring out the old year with something even worse. “Once You Understand” by Think sounded oh-so-relevant in 1971. If you’re a parent, it warns that if you don’t let your kids live their lives as they choose, they’ll turn to dope and kill themselves and then you’ll be sorry. If you’re a kid, it warns you that you should probably listen to your parents, or you’ll turn to dope and kill yourself and then you’ll be sorry, or you would be if you weren’t dead. If you can listen to it all the way without cringing, you’re made of stronger stuff than I.

And have a Happy New Year while you still can.

“Once You Understand”/Think (buy it, along with better-known death pop records like “Teen Angel,” “Dead Man’s Curve,” and “Tell Laura I Love Her,” but not “Leader of the Pack” or “D.O.A.,” here)

(Something that may explain the title of this post is here.)

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4 responses

  1. We just listened to that Dead! compilation yesterday! A gift from a misguided friend. Most of it is frankly awful, insufficiently redeemed by unintentional humor. That Think song is one of the ones that is amusingly bad once. It isn’t the worst thing on the album — that honor probably goes to “The Drunken Driver” by Ferlin Husky, which is song-poem bad.

  2. I have only vague memories of “Think,” for which I am thankful. It goes without discussion onto the list of truly awful Top 40 songs. Thanks, I guess, and Happy New Year to you and the Mrs.!

  3. The popularity of “Snoopy’s Christmas” is no surprise, then or now. It was one of the most, uh, requested tunes I posted in my recent Christmas series.

  4. I always thought “Mongoose” was a pretty cool tune. Then again, I was 13.

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