There’s a line in A Charlie Brown Christmas: Linus says, “Maybe Lucy’s right—of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Brown-iest.” The line occurred to me recently as I looked over the newspapers and the record charts from July 1974—of all the 70s summers, 1974 is the 70’s summer-iest. The newspaper headlines were all about Watergate, weapons treaties with the Russians, and rising unemployment. And the radio was all about escapist pop music, typified by the survey from WISM in Madison, Wisconsin, dated July 4, 1974. Here are five noteworthy records from that summer week:
1. “Rock the Boat”/Hues Corporation (up from 7). The further in time we get from 1974, the more I think this record is one of the half-dozen essential singles of the decade, not just because it’s one of the first (if not the first) disco records to hit Number One, but because it typifies its moment in history so well.
9. “Rock and Roll Heaven”/Righteous Brothers (down from 3). I liked this song a lot more in 1974 than I do now—I hear it as cheesy and cliched in a way I didn’t when I was 14—but its mighty singalong power will not be denied.
20. “Keep on Tryin'”/Clicker (up from 32). One of Wisconsin’s most beloved rock bands, whose history has been nicely celebrated by our pal Jeff at AM, Then FM. “Keep on Tryin'” was the hottest record on the WISM survey in this week, moving up 12.
21. “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”/Elton John (up from 25). This was my favorite song of the moment. I adored it from the first time I heard it, although I didn’t buy it right away. I had quit buying singles by this time, and wouldn’t get a copy of the Caribou album until the fall.
26. “Train of Thought”/Cher (holding at 26). Melodramatic as it is, “Train of Thought” is also a great record, telling its story in two minutes without wasting a second.
I wanted to write about this week for a couple of other reasons beyond the 70s summer-ness of it. There’s a two-part aircheck of WISM from June 9, 1974, at YouTube featuring night guy Charlie Simon, on which he plays several of the tunes on this survey. (Part 1 here, part 2 here.) Charlie is still fondly remembered up here, but this isn’t a particularly great show. (He had nothing to do with putting it on YouTube.) There are a lot of breaks where he sounds like he hasn’t thought out what he’s going to say before he opens the microphone. Notice how often he gives the time—did listeners really need to know the time every three minutes? I suspect it’s a crutch. All that said, however, it’ll give you the flavor of the small-market Top 40 radio that used to be heard everywhere.
Notice too that the call-in contests are restricted to people whose phone numbers end with a certain digit, which strikes me as a practice worth resurrecting.
Be sure to watch the videos while you listen for some vintage pictures of WISM, which was the flagship station of the company I now work for. Those amongst the readership who grew up around here will get off on some of the commercials, too—I am pretty sure the George Holmes Tire jingle is tattooed on our DNA.
Here’s my other reason for writing about this: to lay some vintage Clicker on you.
“Keep on Tryin'”/Clicker (out of print)