Still here, neither retired nor dead. Perhaps someday we’ll look back on this week and laugh.
The magnificent Airheads Radio Survey Archive has nearly 30,000 radio surveys from the 50s to the 90s—maybe more than 30,000 by the time you read this. Only about one percent of them are from R&B stations. Some of those surveys contain a lot of records that crossed over to the pop charts, and some have very few. At WBOK in New Orleans during the week of January 25, 1971, only six or eight of the 47 records on the survey were major pop hits, although a lot more than that found their way onto the Hot 100. Some noteworthy entries:
4. “One Bad Apple”/The Osmonds. What is this bunch of very white boys doing here? Singing soul music, that’s what. “One Bad Apple” was written with the Jackson Five in mind and was often mistaken for them at the time. (Songwriter George Jackson co-wrote another convincing J5 clone: “Double Lovin’,” which features a remarkably gritty non-Donny vocal—by Merrill, I think.) Plus it was produced by Rick Hall at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, the cradle of many great soul performances in the middle and late 1960s. So, yeah. The song would hit #1 on the pop chart in February and stay there for five weeks.
5. “If I Were Your Woman”/Gladys Knight & the Pips. A highly underrated production by Clay McMurray, who got busy at Motown just as the label’s golden era was beginning to fade. I can remember hearing “If I Were Your Woman” on WLS those first few times and being transfixed by it—nothing else ever sounded quite like it. The introduction alone is one of Motown’s greatest recorded moments.
12. “Boy and Girl”/Gin and the Gents. From North Carolina, Gin and the Gents made a handful of singles. The full title of this song is apparently “Teenage National Anthem Boy and Girl.” I suppose the record label figured a radio programmer would be more likely to give a trial spin to a record with such a title than to something called simply “Boy and Girl.” It goes on a bit too long, and it probably seemed a bit old-fashioned even by the standards of 1971, although I think I hear a little Delfonics vibe in it. You’ll have to tell me what you hear.
41. “Whole Lotta Love”/King Curtis. One fine morning a few years ago I showed up for work at the classic-rock station and was gobsmacked to see this, which I’d never noticed in our record library before. It’s the Led Zeppelin hit from 1970 reworked by the legendary sax man, and who’s to say which version is hotter. “Whole Lotta Love” is on King Curtis Live at Fillmore West, although it’s possible that the hit version was a studio recording. I expect somebody amongst the readership will set it straight.
Top Soulful Pick #1: “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley”/Lee Dorsey. A few years later, blue-eyed soul singer Robert Palmer would record a slowed-down, funked-up version, but this “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” is the original. Lee Dorsey was a New Orleans native who charted a lot in the 60s, but by 1971 he had been off the radio for a couple of years. This didn’t make the Hot 100, but it’s mighty fine.
Top Soulful Pick #2: “Girls Girls Girls”/Richie’s Room 222 Gang. Room 222 is, of course, the ABC-TV series about a racially mixed high school in Los Angeles. The character of Richie, played by Howard Rice, apparently had a band in at least one episode of the show, although from what I can gather, this song didn’t appear on TV. The synergy, such as it was, didn’t do much for the record. This is the only appearance for “Girls Girls Girls” anywhere at ARSA; the B-side of it, “I’d Rather Stay a Child,” shows up for a week in March 1971 at KBPI in Denver.
Whoops, that’s six records, not five. Turns out I can’t count very well, either.