One of the first things you learn in program director school (which is not a real place, but it should be) is that people have options, so it’s very important that everything you do on the radio have purpose and meaning and appeal, so listeners don’t tune away. It’s why playlists have gradually gotten tighter and why jock talk is limited during music hours. It’s also why American Top 40: The 70s has started making two shows available to affiliates most weekends, one from the early part of the decade and one later. The early 70s shows are often populated with songs that are unfamiliar now—or just weird—and they represent a potential turn-off in a way the late 70s shows do not.
Like the show from September 22, 1973, which rivals the show of August 1, 1970, for the all-time highest concentration of dreck versus quality.
The whole show was remarkably R&B-heavy, and the first hour was loaded with the Jackson Five, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, the Ohio Players, Barry White, the Chi-Lites, and the Spinners. However: none of the songs are classics, and most are not particularly good. The best are Aretha’s “Angel” and the Spinners’ “Ghetto Child”, and Barry White’s “I’ve Got So Much to Give” is OK. But the rest are extremely minor, by-the-numbers exercises that start disappearing from memory while they’re still playing. King’s “To Know You Is to Love You” (long version here) must have been doing huge business on stations targeting black audiences, because it’s hard to imagine mainstream Top 40 stations playing it much. Of all the songs in the first hour, only three remained on radio playlists very far beyond 1973: “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” by Chicago, “Rocky Mountain Way” by Joe Walsh, and “Get Down” by Gilbert O’Sullivan.
I doubt that anybody considers “Get Down” an all-time classic, but it was a welcome closer to one of the strangest quarter-hours in AT40 history. The segment began with Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me,” a #1 country record that stayed in the pop Top 40 for 19 weeks and ended up the #6 song for the whole year according to Billboard, despite reaching only #16 on the Hot 100. It was followed on the show by the Chi-Lites’ “Stoned out of My Mind”—a transition that should be left to the professionals and not attempted at home—and “Ghetto Child.” And after that, another stupendous train wreck.
Conway Twitty was a rock ‘n’ roll singer at first—his version of “It’s Only Make Believe” was a #1 hit in 1958—but by the early 1970s, he was one of the top stars in country, just beginning a 20-year run of success. “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” an enormous country hit, returned him to the Top 40 for the first time since 1958. There was a whole sub-genre of country music in the 70s and early 80s that featured explicit descriptions of the act of love, but on “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” Twitty sounds like a child molester in the middle of the atrocity. It’s surely one of the skeeviest records ever recorded. After that, “Get Down” sounded like “Hey Jude.”
(It’s probably worth contemplating why “You’ve Never Been This Far Before” is so awful while Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” which returned to the #1 slot in this week after being dethroned the week before, is so much better despite exploring similar territory. Some other day, maybe.)
Also heard in the first hour of the show: “In the Midnight Hour” by Cross Country. It’s a record I’ve seen mentioned in the archives but I’d never heard it before, and it left me perplexed. Is it a clever, counter-intuitive reworking of the Wilson Pickett dance classic . . . or is it a monumental disaster that should have been strangled in its cradle before it ever got to vinyl? I am pretty opinionated about most things, and I don’t usually have trouble deciding what those opinions are, but with this record, I have no idea, so you’ll have to tell me what to think.