About 200,000 Americans and 4.1 million people worldwide are celebrating rare birthdays today, on February 29. A San Diego band called Rookie Card has recorded a song about being a leap-year baby called “229,” which features the line, “I’m aging faster at a quarter of the speed.” That’s a pretty good characterization of how it feels, even if the rest of the song is standard-issue mopey modern pop. The songwriter, who was not born on the 29th, says he thinks being born on the 29th is kind of sad. Nah. It’s no worse than being born on any other day, and in certain ways, it’s better. I know this because I’m a leap-year baby myself. Today is my 12th birthday.
My nephews think it’s hilarious that they’ve had more birthdays than I have. When I was little, I used to get my picture in the local paper every February 29th; this year, a friend who anchors on South Dakota Public Radio called me for a story. The February 29ths tend to blur in memory before that, although eight years ago, I was waiting on the job offer that resulted in our Wisconsin homecoming. I do recall that the first one on which I felt like a real celebrity was 1972; I was in the sixth grade, and my teacher made a rather big fuss over me. And so . . . here’s the record chart for that week from KBYR in Anchorage, Alaska, with a few noteworthy songs nine birthdays on.
6. “Joy”/Apollo 100. Apollo 100 was a group of British studio musicians sometimes billed as “Apollo 100 featuring Tom Parker,” who was the group’s arranger. They made an entire album of mostly classical adaptations which included their speeded-up version of Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and another album of mostly covers. Much of it is godawful, although “Joy” is a pretty good AM radio memory. It’s one of five songs on the KBYR survey I bought on 45s in early 1972, including three of the Top 10. (“Heart of Gold,” “Stay With Me,” “American Pie,” and “My World” were the others.)
9. “Precious and Few”/Climax. This has everything that made early 70s radio pop great: a sensitive male lead vocal, breathy female backup singers, a tinkly little piano and a big ol’ string section, and a sweeping, emotional key change on the last refrain, the effect of which is multiplied by slowing the tempo a bit. It all makes “Precious and Few” a true romantic classic. (The video is classic, too—dig the fringe and bell-bottoms on lead singer Sonny Geraci. Not everybody can look good in something like that.)
19. “Fire and Water”/Wilson Pickett. This cover of the title song from Free’s 1970 album (which also featured “All Right Now”) was Pickett’s final Top 40 hit. And it rocks just as hard as the original. Harder, maybe.
37. “Where Did Our Love Go”/Donnie Elbert. A New Orleans-born singer who became a star in Britain’s Northern Soul scene, Elbert’s two biggest American hits were Motown covers, this and “I Can’t Help Myself.” While they are not nearly so monumental as the Motown originals, they sounded great on the radio, and they still sound good now. There’s some fine bangin’ piano on both of ‘em, and when Elbert leaps to his falsetto on “I Can’t Help Myself,” you know you’re in the presence of genuine soul.
38. “D.B. Cooper Where Are You”‘/Thom Bresh. On November 24, 1971, a man traveling from Portland to Seattle under the name Dan Cooper hijacked a Northwest Airlines flight, received $200,000 ransom, and then parachuted out. His name was misreported as D.B. Cooper (Walter Cronkite calls him “D.A. Cooper” here), and he’s been known by that name ever since. He was never found, although some of the money was, several years later, and as recently as last November, there was new information in the case. This song was apparently written by a Washington state singer/songwriter named Judy Sword. It was the first single recorded by Bresh, who had a handful of country hits in the late 70s and early 80s.
And now, I’m going off to collect the various free lunches, beers, and other swag you can get if today’s your birthday. (And if today’s your birthday, be sure to get in touch.)
“Where Did Our Love Go”/Donnie Elbert (out of print, but available here)
Bonus track: “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”/Donnie Elbert (out of print and available not much of anywhere, as far as I can tell; try Ebay)