Earlier this week I started live-blogging the May 15, 1971 edition of American Top 40. Now, on with the countdown.
18. “I Don’t Blame You at All”/Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Another genius production by Robinson, “I Don’t Blame You at All” is put together like a Swiss watch, the kind of thing that rewards repeated listening just as “Tears of a Clown” does.
16. “What’s Going On”/Marvin Gaye. This is the easiest groove Marvin ever got into, so much so that it undercuts his intention to write a protest song.
12. “Love Her Madly”/Doors. The death of Ray Manzarek this week reminds us, as a friend puts it, “We’ve reached the age my mother warned me of,” when the losses begin to multiply. The Doors will be popular as long as teenage boys feel alienated, but they were essentially a singles band. If I’ve got the six they charted in 1967 and 1968 plus the two from L.A. Woman, I’ve got all the Doors I need. “Love Her Madly” is the purest radio pleasure of the lot.
10. “Chick-a-Boom”/Daddy Dewdrop. “Chick-a-Boom” was originally written for the kids’ TV show Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies, which is more evidence that kids’ TV in the 70s was awesome, and it’s performed with a crazed glee that entertains me still.
8. “Stay Awhile”/The Bells. What I said about this song in 2007 still holds: “Meanwhile, back in the fifth grade, I cannot say precisely why I like ‘Stay Awhile,’ but I do. The tune is simple enough to hum. The girl singer sounds kind of sweet; the guy sounds a little weird, but if he’s managed to get the attention of a sweet girl, he’s doing better than I am. Every time the song comes on, it gives me this odd, warm feeling inside, and I think that whatever they’re singing about sounds like it might be a pretty nice thing to do. All these years later, it still does, and I still do.”
7. “Bridge Over Troubled Water”/Aretha Franklin. In which Aretha takes the Simon and Garfunkel original to church on the purest gospel recording to hit the Top 10 this side of “O Happy Day.”
3. “Put Your Hand in the Hand”/Ocean. Casey remarks on the large number of songs in the countdown this week mentioning Jesus, and says that the religious message of “Put Your Hand in the Hand” is applicable to everyone no matter what they believe. (Perhaps.) The irony is that Ocean had no particular interest in religion, they just wanted to make a hit song, and they did—but they never had another.
This edition of AT40 is geek-notable for how it handles network commercials—ads sold by the production company, Watermark, to air on all of the stations carrying the show, as distinct from local spots aired by local affiliates. Today, the practice on most syndicated shows is to group the network commercials with the local ones. But on the May 15, 1971 edition of AT40, there were six “avails” for network ads, and each one played in the middle of a program segment, including one directly before the #1 song. (The recent rebroadcast of the show edited out all but two of them.) Back in the day, AT40 had a lot more commercial breaks than it does now—remember that every time you hear two jingles back to back, that’s where a break would have been originally—but the breaks would have been shorter than such breaks are now. The May 15, 1971 show looks to have allowed 8 1/2 minutes per hour for local inventory, and it would have been parceled out 60 to 90 seconds at a time.
1. “Joy to the World”/Three Dog Night. Imagine a bus full of grade-school kids, all singing this song at the top of their lungs, every afternoon on the way home, which is what we did that spring. If the 1970s are the country I grew up in, then “Joy to the World” is the song of my people.