When you’ve heard as many American Top 40 shows from the 70s as I have, the totality of each show becomes less interesting than the little moments within them. So it was with a couple of recent shows.
For instance, the show from the the week of June 23, 1973, contained a monumental train wreck. At #40, Fred Wesley and the JBs appeared with “Doing It to Death.” This is a quintessential James Brown joint, little more than a rhythm track over which James repeatedly insists he’s gonna have a funky good time, and (according to Wikipedia) exhorts the band to change key: “In order for me to get down, I have to get down in D.” (I have always heard that as “get down in deep,” which works just as well.) The song would stick around for several weeks and make it to #22 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the soul chart. I don’t remember WLS playing it, and so I probably never heard it until I started collecting R&B compilations in the CD era.
“Doing It to Death” was followed at #39 by Jeanne Pruitt’s “Satin Sheets.” This is a classic country joint, in which Jeanne has every material comfort she could want (cars, clothes, and the titular bedcovers), but she’s not in love with the man who provides them. Nashville courted the pop market openly in the early 70s, but at first blush, “Satin Sheets” seems an unlikely candidate to cross over. Its low guitar twang gives it an ominous and old-fashioned feel, and Pruitt’s voice is as country as can be.
“Satin Sheets” would continue to create spectacular train wrecks on AT40 through much of its chart run. During the week of June 30th, it was between “Hocus Pocus” by Focus and “Let’s Pretend” by the Raspberries—which has to be one of the biggest train wrecks in chart history—and during the week of July 14th, it was followed by Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein.” The song eventually peaked at #28 on the Hot 100, and went to #1 on the country chart.
As for the show from June 25, 1977, I only heard a little of it. The first segment, however, contained a bit of lost radio history. Casey played the single edit of Boston’s “Peace of Mind,” followed by the single version of “Couldn’t Get it Right” by the Climax Blues Band. We have discussed both of these (and many others like them) at this blog in the past, and the main point of those discussions remains worth repeating: many of the songs we hear on oldies radio and specialty shows as purported artifacts of the past are not what we were hearing when those songs were new. And in many cases, what we’re hearing now is a whole lot less exciting than what we heard then.
I didn’t listen to the whole 1977 show the other night, and that was deliberate—I wasn’t ready for it. TV auteur David Milch says all storytelling is about the weight of the past on the present. My summer of 1977 carries very peculiar weight, and it takes some doing to balance it all 35 years later. On Monday—provided I don’t lose my nerve—I’ll tell you about one night from back then.