In my post about the repeat broadcasts of original 70s-vintage American Top 40 a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how forgotten records of various genres populate the first hour of the show, and that they sometimes clash weirdly when played back to back. Those clashes are part of the fun of hearing the reruns today, although I’m sure they make program directors squirm a little bit—and to be fair, they may have made program directors squirm a little back in the day, too.
I’ve been listening to the May 22, 1976, show over the last few days, and there’s a stretch of that broadcast that makes you wonder just what format you’re listening to. It starts innocuously at Number 36 with Olivia Newton-John’s “Come on Over,” a song by Barry and Robin Gibb that was also a Top-Ten hit on the country charts. Up next at Number 35 is the highest-debuting song of the week, “I.O.U.” by Jimmy Dean. At the time, Dean was known to most as the star of commercials for his sausage company, although he had been a TV star for years before that, and he scored a number of sizable spoken-word hits in the 1960s, including “Big Bad John” and “P.T. 109.”
May 22, 1976, was a Saturday; the previous Sunday would have been Mother’s Day, which explains why “I.O.U,” in which Dean describes how grateful he is for all the services his mother provided him over a lifetime by reciting them over a weepy string track, would have zoomed into the 40 from Number 83.
After “I.O.U,” which runs 5:57 (and which seems twice as long), Casey teases that he’s going to answer a question from a listener about the highest-charting answer record in pop history. Then he kicks into Gary Wright’s latest, “Love Is Alive,” at Number 34, and normalcy seems to return. After the record’s over, he answers the question: the top answer song of all time is Jeanne Black’s “He’ll Have to Stay,” a response to Jim Reeves’ 1960 classic “He’ll Have to Go.” Two more country songs, although both went Top 5 on the pop chart as well. (Hear ’em both here.) And after this bit of trivia, Casey moves on to Number 33.
By this point, a Top-40 listener could scarcely be blamed for thinking he’d tuned in the wrong station, at least until the Doobie Brothers (“Takin’ It to the Streets”) and Rhythm Heritage (“Baretta’s Theme”) set things aright, although Elvis and the Bellamy Brothers will be heard shortly with songs that were also big country hits.
Up at Number 24, Casey plays “Union Man” by the Cate Brothers. As I listen, I remember that four years ago this spring, National Review published a widely mocked list of the Top 50 Conservative Rock Songs, and I wonder why “Union Man” didn’t make the list. It’s highly ambivalent on the subject of labor unions, and the song’s protagonist would probably have ended up a Reagan Democrat.
Well I know I need to help get that raise
There’s one thing I don’t like
Tell me how can I feed my hungry family
When you say I’m going on strike
Hey hey Mr. union man
How’m I gonna pay my dues
Owe more money than I can pay
Looks like I’m bound to lose
YouTube DJ Music Mike has more on the Cate Brothers and “Union Man” here.
Both “I.O.U” and “Union Man” were at their chart peaks on May 22, 1976. “I.O.U.” would bring AT40 to a dead stop again the next week at Number 35 and “Union Man” would hold at 24. “I.O.U.” would be gone from the countdown (and the Hot 100) the week after that, while “Union Man” would spend one last week on the 40 during the week of June 5 before plunging to Number 96 and out. And 34 years after they ran the charts together, “I.O.U.” and “Union Man” stand as dusty, forgotten monuments to the unparalleled diversity of 70s radio pop.