Top 5: New Rock ’72

If you stepped into the Wayback Machine, traveled to the middle of the 1960s, and and scanned the FM band, you would hear a lot of stations simulcasting their AM sister station’s programming. But by late in the decade, the FCC required broadcasters to offer separate programming on FM. For some music stations, this meant taking advantage of FM stereo technology (celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) to offer listeners an upgraded listening experience. And for many FM music stations, it also meant playing different music than AM stations did. The great progressive, free-form, album rock stations rose during this period, from KMPX in San Francisco to WNEW-FM in New York. It wasn’t long before most cities had their own “alternative” stations.

A few adventuresome FM programmers tried having it both ways—playing the AM radio hits and mixing in some flavor from elsewhere. That seems to be what was happening at WIXO in New Orleans during the week of October 27, 1972. The station positioned itself as “new rock, cooler than normal,” and alongside that season’s big hits by Lobo, the Spinners, Jim Croce, Albert Hammond, and even Gilbert O’ Sullivan, it went off the Top 40 map in interesting ways.

16. “Convention ’72″/The Delegates (up from 30) and 25. “Deteriorata”/National Lampoon (up from 32). The fall of ’72 was a season of parodies and novelties (which means we could count the song at #10, “Hot Butter” by Popcorn, also). “Convention ’72” might be the most thoroughly forgotten top-10 hit of the 1970s. It’s a break-in record lampooning various political figures, and it rose to #8 in Billboard the week after Nixon was reelected. Most of the voices are provided by Pittsburgh DJ Bob DeCarlo. “Deteriorata” is a parody of “Desiderata,” the inspirational prose poem that had been a hit for Les Crane a year before. And on the subject of novelty:

22. “I Ain’t Never Seen a White Man”/Wolfman Jack (up from 25). The legendary DJ released two albums on the Wooden Nickel label in 1972 and 1973, in which he sings, talks, and generally hams up pop, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll songs along with a few originals. Most are pretty painful to listen to now. “I Ain’t Never Seen a White Man,” a plea for racial harmony, bubbled under the Hot 100, reaching #106 in a six-week run.

23. “Best Thing”/Styx (up from 26). Whoever worked New Orleans promotion for Wooden Nickel was earning his money in the fall of 1972. Like the Wolfman Jack record, the debut album by Styx was released on the Wooden Nickel label also, and “Best Thing” was the lead single. Here’s an ancient piece of video showing the band performing the song live in 1972 at what’s probably Summerfest in Milwaukee. Be sure to stick around for the last minute of the clip, which was apparently taken from a Chicago TV show.

26. “Poor Boy”/Casey Kelly (down from 22). Singer/songwriter from Louisiana who made a couple of country-rock albums in the early 70s and eventually settled in Nashville, where he still works as a songwriter and musician.

As album-oriented rock gained in popularity around the turn of the 1980s, programmers instituted a form of apartheid, banishing all black artists except for Jimi Hendrix, something that album stations would not have embraced a decade before. While WIXO is by no means an album station, its list of “new rock” extras includes R&B hits by the Detroit Emeralds, Al Green, Jerry Butler, Lamont Dozier, and Wilson Pickett, which is a small indication of how these artists were perceived at the time.

In New Orleans, “new rock,” running the gamut from Jethro Tull and Grand Funk to Curtis Mayfield and Johnny Rivers, meant “everything but the kitchen sink”—but I suspect it made for a mighty interesting station, too.

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