Top 5: First Class

I am still kinda gobsmacked that Ron Smith, compiler of the Chicago chart books for WLS and WCFL, was kind enough to send me a chronological list of #1 hits on the WLS surveys between 1960 and 1981. Because they were based on what was happening on the air and on the street in Chicagoland, they mirrored the city’s taste more precisely than the nationwide Billboard and Cash Box charts. As it happens, around the end of October in five years during the 1970s, a song topped the WLS survey that didn’t make #1 in Billboard. There’s almost nothing here that’s impossible to believe—each one of these records either reached the top in Cash Box or came close on Billboard. But numbers matter and historical records are sacrosanct, so here we go.

1971: “Yo-Yo”/Osmonds (10/25/71, two weeks at #1). The fall of 1971 was a season when when all things Osmond were big. Donny’s “Go Away Little Girl” had been #1 in Billboard, Cash Box, and on WLS in September, but “Yo-Yo” is inestimably better, as long as you remember who were talking about.

1972: “Everybody Plays the Fool”/Main Ingredient (10/23/72, one week; #3 Billboard, #1 Cash Box). I dug “Everybody Plays the Fool” then, and I dig it now. And although I haven’t seen or heard of her in at least 30 years, I wonder whatever happened to Moira.

1973: “Heartbeat It’s a Lovebeat”/DeFranco Family (10/20/73, five weeks; #3 Billboard, #1 Cash Box). From out of the pages of teenage fan magazines, the DeFranco Family charted three times. The bizarrely produced “Heartbeat” is the weakest of the three, but holy crap it was inescapable for a while.

1974: “Beach Baby”/First Class (10/26/74, one week; #4 Billboard, #3 Cash Box). Although this British studio group is often alleged to be a one-hit wonder, it actually hit the Hot 100 three times, including the fine “Funny How Love Can Be.” First Class features the great Tony Burrows, who had pulled off one of the great-yet-unknown feats of chart domination a few years before.

1976: “Muskrat Love”/Captain and Tennille (11/13/76, one week; #4 Billboard, #2 Cash Box). Although it’s become one of the most reviled records of all time, “Muskrat Love” was at one time an extremely popular song—and more than once. It was originally written and recorded by a country outlaw named Willis Alan Ramsey in 1971 as “Muskrat Candlelight” and covered by America in 1973. The Captain and Tennille performed it in their lounge act before they got famous, and put it on their 1976 album Song of Joy at the last minute.

As it turns out, it was Madison Top 40 giant WISM and its legendary programmer, Jonathan Little, who discovered “Muskrat Love” and started it on the way to becoming a national hit. He was a fan of America’s version, so he put the Captain and Tennille’s version on his air as an album cut in the summer of 1976. After listeners blew out the phones asking for it, Jonathan told A&M Records that he’d found their next hit, and it was eventually released as a single. For years thereafter, whenever they performed the song, the Captain and Tennille would credit WISM and Jonathan by name for making it into a hit.

So if you’re looking for somebody to blame, there you go.

There is no way to adequately describe what happens to you as you watch the video below. You just have to tough it out, if you can.

5 responses

  1. We all have our jumior high Moiras, I think. Mine showed up a few years earlier, and her record to this day is the Vogues’ “Turn Around, Look At Me.”

  2. Sublime to ridiculous — and in the DeFranco Family’s case, both. Thanks for the roundup.

  3. I recently picked up the First Class LP and was disappointed “Funny How Love..” wasn’t on it. Must have been a one-off single. Fantastic song with versions by The Ivy League and Chad and Jeremy.

    You must be talking about the “keyboard smear” with Morse code on “Heartbeat It’s a Love Beat.” I’ve plugged the Rubinoos here before and they covered the DeFranco’s album cut (!?) “Gorilla” around the time they were taking their remake of “I Think We’re Alone Now” into the top 40. Great, great band.

    1. First Class’ “Funny How Love…” was a non-LP single, issued half a year after the group’s LP (a “one-off single” would have implied that First Class only had one single released on the U.K. label.)

      Another “Funny” worth checking out: the Rockin’ Berries’ version, recorded before the Ivy League re-recorded their original demo, which had been pitched to the RBs. The Berries’ take was scheduled for single release until Piccadilly pulled it in favor of the Ivys. It’s on Repertoire’s 1990 ‘The Rockin’ Berries In Town’ CD.

  4. …..plus Danny Hutton did a version on MGM, pre-Dog Night that bubbled under the Hot 100 if I recall. Last year my obsession was versions of “Take Me For a Little While;” this year it’s “Funny How Love Can Be.”

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