American Top 40 shows from any year contain records that were obscure in the first place and are forgotten now, but the early 70s shows tend to contain more of ’em, alongside songs that just don’t translate well to today’s pop-radio audience—twangy country crossovers, gritty soul stompers, whacked-out novelty records—and many programmers don’t want them on their air, even as part of a weekend specialty show. But for eccentric antiquarians such as we, that’s the attraction of the early 70s shows. On a recent weekend, AT40 gave affiliates a choice: a show from 1971 or a show from 1977. Here are a few notes on the show you probably didn’t hear, featuring the chart dated May 15, 1971.
40. “Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley”/C Company Featuring Terry Nelson. Right-wing agitprop that excuses the atrocities at My Lai by using the Nuremberg defense and blaming the goddamn hippies, or something—it’s hard to tell what the exact point of “Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley” is supposed to be. It was recorded at the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, however, so there are presumably some fine players on it.
38. “Baby Let Me Kiss You”/King Floyd. With an R&B lyric line for the ages: “Baby let me do it now / Cuz I’m ’bout to do it anyhow.”
37. “Booty Butt”/Ray Charles Orchestra. Casey remarks, “He makes it sound so easy,” and punches the title, “Booty BUTT,” like it pleases him. Too bad that title probably kept this fine mid-tempo R&B instrumental from getting on the radio in lots of places.
33. “I’ll Meet You Halfway”/Partridge Family. I adore “I’ll Meet You Halfway,” which might be the perfect example of the bubblegum paradox—how music intended to be disposable eclipses its purpose because of the craftsmanship lavished upon it.
31. “Reach Out I’ll Be There”/Diana Ross. To remake one of Motown’s great soul classics as a limp ballad shows that for the most part, the label had no idea what the hell to do anymore when they weren’t handing creative control to Marvin, Stevie, and Smokey. The versions available at YouTube all seem to be either remixes or alternates, which you can go and find if you want.
24. “Superstar”/Murray Head. It took more time than I intended to spend the other day researching the chart profile of this record. It first appeared on Billboard‘s Bubbling Under chart in January 1970, and had a seven-week run on the Hot 100 that winter before falling out. It bubbled under again during the last week of 1970 before climbing back onto the Hot 100 for 12 more weeks, never getting above #65, whereupon it fell back to the Bubbling Under chart for a couple of weeks before departing the chart again. A third run on the Hot 100 began in April, when it finally caught fire. “Superstar” (from Jesus Christ Superstar, then setting the world on fire) would reach #14 at the end of May, but its last week on the Hot 100 would be June 26, 1971, when it was #22. It vanished after that.
There’s plenty of smokin’ good R&B on this chart: Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Knock My Love, ” “Treat Her Like a Lady” by Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, “Just My Imagination” by the Temptations, “Give More Power to the People” by the Chi-Lites, and Stevie Wonder’s cover of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out.” Less fabulous but still worth hearing: “I Love You for All Seasons” by the Fuzz and “Right on the Tip of My Tongue” by Brenda and the Tabulations, which is one of the great group names of all time. And there will be more in the next installment, proving why the spring and early summer of 1971 was one of the Top 40’s greatest seasons.