Although 1976 is my favorite year of the 70s, 1971 is a closer second than the evidence of this blog indicates. It’s a fascinating moment in American history—the counterculture’s dreams, short- and long-term, of ending the war in Vietnam and introducing an era of universal brotherhood, have both failed, but the energy that animated young people is being channeled into other areas—we’d start hearing the phrase “women’s liberation” more often, and the environmental movement gained steam. For the 11-year-old me, it was a year of discovery, my first as a compulsive radio listener, learning about the world as well as the music. And damn, the music: soul was in a golden era; top-40 cheese, which had begun to ripen in the bubblegum years of the late 60s, was often especially tasty. And Casey Kasem had begun counting down the hits every weekend. I’ve been listening to the show from July 31, 1971, and here’s some of it.
39. “Love Means You Never Have to Say You’re Sorry”/Sounds of Sunshine. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is a line from the movie Love Story, which dominated American consciousness in 1971 like little else that year. If that’s how Jenny defined love, it doesn’t matter that she croaked—her relationship with Oliver was built on an agreement never to communicate, and it was doomed to crater anyhow. (John Lennon is said to have remarked that love means having to say you’re sorry every five minutes.) “Love Means You Never Have to Say You’re Sorry,” inspired by the film but not appearing in it, was a big easy-listening hit; the Sounds of Sunshine were a Los Angeles trio who sounded a lot like the Lettermen.
36. “Riders on the Storm”/Doors. Casey introduces the band as “the late Jim Morrison and the Doors,” just weeks after the Lizard King joined the Choir Invisible, or moved to Tahiti, or whatever the hell he did. “Riders on the Storm,” heard here in its four-minute single version, is a remarkable piece of music—few records set a mood better. No matter when you hear it, you’re driving in the rain on a steamy summer night, with all of your doubts and fears crowding the back seat behind you.
35. “Chicago”/Graham Nash. “So you’re brother’s bound and gagged and they’ve chained him to a chair / Won’t you please come to Chicago just to sing.” The reference is to Black Panther Bobby Seale, who was restrained in open court during the trial of the Chicago Seven for inciting the 1968 Democratic Convention riots, a hideous image of “justice” so far beyond American norms that artists couldn’t help noticing. It’s as if a song about the hooded prisoner of Abu Ghraib had made the Top 40 in 2007. Which didn’t happen then and would never happen now.
31. “You’ve Got a Friend”/Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway and 22. “Love the One You’re With”/Isley Brothers. Here’s something else that doesn’t happen anymore—largely contemporaneous hit versions of famous songs. James Taylor’s version of “You’ve Got a Friend” will appear later in this very countdown; “Love the One You’re With” had been a big hit for Stephen Stills at the end of 1970. A good song is a good song, and it made sense for artists and labels to get some traction with other audiences.
28. “Rings”/Cymarron, #27, “Funky Nassau”/Beginning of the End, and #26 “Liar”/Three Dog Night. This is melt-in-your-mouth 70s glory right here, an instant ticket back to the days when your president was Nixon, your TV got three channels, your town had an afternoon paper, and your radio was AM.
23. “Double Barrel”/Dave & Ansil Collins. On these early shows, Casey comes off stiff sometimes, reciting chart positions in a just-the-facts tone that Joe Friday would recognize. Glimpses of the later, friendlier Casey come out from time to time, mostly on longer stories, like the one he tells about Olivia Newton-John during this week’s show. He talks about “Double Barrel” in a tone that’s best described as, “Yeah, America, I don’t get it either.” You can’t necessarily blame him—if you can think of a stranger record than “Double Barrel” to hit the Top 40, share it with the whole class.
We’ll cover the top half of the chart in a later installment.