It’s October 1971. I’m in Mr. Schilling’s sixth-grade class at Northside School. He is the first male classroom teacher I have ever had, a peculiar and unpredictable combination of fun guy and hard-ass. I like him, and not just because he’s the first teacher who doesn’t give me a poor grade in handwriting—he can’t do it, he says, because his handwriting is even worse than mine. A teacher I like much less is Miss Hibbard, which is not her real name. She is the director of the district’s sixth-grade band, which rehearses one or two afternoons a week, and I am a not-particularly-talented saxophone player with a smart mouth. What I remember about Miss Hibbard is that she was extremely young—on her first teaching job that fall, if I had to guess now—and she had the habit of speaking her mind, often without editing. One day in rehearsal, she said something to me, or about me, that incensed my mother when I reported it at home. I don’t remember what it was, but Mom actually called Miss Hibbard to complain, which is something I can’t recall her doing any other time.
A big obsession that fall is touch football. Being on the 1971 Grade Football League champion Northside Browns is the highlight of my sorry athletic career. But my biggest obsession is the radio. I have written about the music from October 1971 during several other Octobers in the life of this blog, ringing changes on the most familiar songs: “Maggie May” and “Spanish Harlem” and “I’ve Found Someone of My Own” and “All Day Music” and others that still retain the power to take me back there, to the football field or the band room or the school bus, like “Annabella” by Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds or “Charity Ball” by Fanny. So this time, here are the Top 5 albums on WLS for the week of October 4, 1971:
1. Every Picture Tells a Story/Rod Stewart. This album didn’t appear on the WLS list of top albums for the week of September 27, but it stood atop the list the next week and stayed there through October. It may have been Number One in Chicago even longer than that, but WLS apparently did not publish an album list on its November surveys until the last one of the month, when the album had fallen to eighth.
2. Every Good Boy Deserves Favor/Moody Blues. Propelled by “The Story in Your Eyes,” which wasn’t especially big on WLS that fall, making only Number 14 on the station’s chart in a six-week run. In the years since, it’s become my favorite Moody Blues song.
3. Shaft/Isaac Hayes. The title song from the movie wouldn’t debut on the WLS chart for a week yet, but the album had come out during the summer. It hit the top spot in Billboard in early November, a couple of weeks before the title song did the same thing.
4. Tapestry/Carole King. This landmark album had been on the radio all summer, and the double-A-sided single “So Far Away” and “Smackwater Jack” kept the roll going. Favorite piece of trivia about the album: King is pictured on the cover at her home in Laurel Canyon with her cat, who was named Telemachus.
5. Who’s Next/The Who. I bought the single version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” late that summer, edited to 3:37 from 8:32, and it would be maybe three years before I heard the full-length version on the radio. The familiarity of the full-length version makes listening to the 45 a distinctly odd experience. A colleague of mine once suggested that the unexpected transitions are so jarring that they make you feel as though you’re tripping over something.
In October 1971, I have made a full trip around the sun with WLS in my ear. I have more to come, but it will be several years before another autumn trip captures my imagination the way 1971 does.