Top 5: Land of the Ice and Snow

From the fall of 1970 through the end of 1986, when I stopped listening to and/or playing the hits on the radio every day, the record charts were the calendar of my life. Name a song from that period and I’ll tell you how I heard it—where I was, what I was doing, and often what I was thinking while it was a hit. It took me a while to understand how it worked to live under such a calendar, but as the chill of December 1970 settled in, it was becoming clearer. The songs of that first fall, that season of musical discovery, “Groovy Situation” and “Green Eyed Lady” and “Candida,” were on the radio much less often by December, and others, “Montego Bay” and “After Midnight” and “Knock Three Times,” had taken their place. Those songs and many others equally memorable are on the chart from WLS in Chicago dated December 7, 1970.

1. “My Sweet Lord”/George Harrison (up from 15). I will never forget how “My Sweet Lord” sounded on AM radio. Despite George’s reputation as a peaceful seeker of higher truth (and the song’s gentle insistence on the urgency of that search), “My Sweet Lord” on AM was gigantic and powerful, and it commanded you to pay attention to its message. The song hit like a bomb everywhere, going from 15 to 1 at WLS and 16 to 1 at WCFL. It was making that kind of leap across the country, debuting on the Hot 100 at Number 72 on November 28 and going to 13 the next week. It would climb to 6 and then 2 before hitting Number One on the Billboard chart dated December 26.

3. “Share the Land”/Guess Who (up from 4). I seem to remember hearing this song on Christmas morning of 1970, during the languid couple of hours after we’d found Santa’s loot and before we had to get dressed and go to Grandma’s house. So perhaps WLS was sneaking in a few current hits on its Holiday Festival of Music back then. (Live TV performance circa 1970 is here.)

12. “Stoned Love”/Supremes (up from 14). If your local oldies station plays a version of “Stoned Love” that starts with a fanfare and a verse, you’re hearing the album version. The single starts cold, with Jean Terrell singing “stoned . . .  love,” which is followed by two minutes and 45 seconds of pure late-period Motown pleasure, as seen on Soul Train.

18. “5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love)”/Presidents (down from 11). This is some completely righteous soul music, starring a group from Washington, D.C., brilliantly produced by Van McCoy. Are we happy? Yes we are.

29. “Immigrant Song”/Led Zeppelin (debut). My 10-year-old self had never heard anything like this, and I don’t believe my 50-year-old self has yet, either, although it wouldn’t reach its apotheosis in popular culture until animator Joel Veitch got hold of it a few years ago.

Given the importance of the fall and winter of 1970 in my personal mythology, we’ll be heading back there again in the next couple of weeks. I guarantee it. If 1970 isn’t your style, a couple of my blog mates have their minds on other Decembers: Songs of the Cholera King visits 1971, while Echoes in the Wind digs into 1972. And 30 Days Out, which I first discovered when researching the Warner Brothers Loss Leaders series of compilation albums, has tracks from two Warners Christmas compilations.

5 responses

  1. When I first heard “My Sweet Lord” on KHJ-AM in Southern California (I was 12), I was SURE it was Lennon and McCartney singing the “Hallelujahs” behind Harrison. I so wanted to believe that was true, being such a big Beatles fan. I continued to believe this for a long time, in fact, since I was sure my ears weren’t lying. Forty years later, I still like to think John and Paul are on there.

    KHJ played the album version of “Stoned Love,” which was unusual, since it usually played singles versions. Thus, when I bought the single, I was disappointed when it didn’t begin with the fanfare. The 1970-71 Jean Terrell singles with the Supremes remain underrated. They still sound great — maybe because we don’t get to hear them much anymore — and they hold their own with Holland-Dozier-Holland Supremes hits of the mid-’60s.

  2. We’re lucky in our market in that the oldies station does play “Stoned Love,” complete with the original lead-in. I don’t recall hearing “Up the Ladder to the Roof” or “Nathan Jones,” though … other than on the AT40 shows from the ’70s.

  3. There are folks who think that “The Immigrant Song” should be licensed by the Minnesota Vikings as their official song. Whether that could be done is an open question, I suppose, but there is no doubt that “The Immigrant Song” is a hell of a lot more badass than “Skol Vikings,” which has been the team’s (lame) official song since 1961. I say go for it!

  4. Rather than go deep, the Vikes should just go cheap and draft the Osmonds’ faux-‘Immigrant’ “Hold Her Tight.” In the acoustic mess of the Metrod… er, Mall Of America Field at the Metrodome, would anyone even be able to tell the difference?

  5. I’ve read that the 45 version of My Sweet Lord is a different mix, though I’ve never been able to find any differences documented.

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