Last week I started listening to the July 31, 1971, edition of American Top 40. In the first installment, I neglected to mention one of the extras—short optional program segments offered to stations that don’t have a full commercial load. It was an excerpt presumably snipped from the 7/31/71 show featuring the #1 song in America “20 years ago today,” the exceedingly strange “Come On-a My House” by Rosemary Clooney. This sprightly, harpsichord-driven number is sung in a faux-Italian accent that sounds uncomfortably stereotypical today. It’s hard to imagine any station being particularly wild about airing it in 1971, let alone 2013.
Now, on with the countdown, except we’re gonna jump around some.
21. “She’s Not Just Another Woman”/8th Day and 4. “Mr. Big Stuff”/Jean Knight. The quantity of deep southern soul on the radio in the early 70s is one of my favorite things about the early 70s. “She’s Not Just Another Woman” is surely that, even though the 8th Day was the Detroit group 100 Proof Aged in Soul under another name.
20. “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be”/Carly Simon. An especially rich text on the social status of young women as the 70s dawned. What their parents, their friends, and the men in their lives expected of them strongly constrained the choices it was acceptable for them to make: the resignation in Carly’s voice as she sings, “You want to marry me, we’ll marry” is painful to hear. Liberation was coming, but it hadn’t happened yet.
18. “Hot Pants”/James Brown. James Fking Brown, everybody.
15. “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again”/Fortunes and 7. “Don’t Pull Your Love”/Hamilton Joe Frank & Reynolds. Although the Fortunes had scored in the 60s and HJF&R would score more in the 70s, these two records are sui generis, slick, radio-friendly productions that would have sounded strange a couple of years before and a couple after. And if you want to throw #9, “Sooner or Later” by the Grass Roots, into the same category, go right ahead. (Go listen to this YouTube version of “Sooner or Later” to understand how smokin’ hot the right audio processing could make radio sound back in the day.)
14. “Bring the Boys Home”/Freda Payne. A Detroit soul record as harshly critical of war and its waste as anything the hippies embraced, “Bring the Boys Home” is heartbreaking: “Can’t you see them marching ‘cross the sky / All the soldiers that have died / Tryin’ to get home / Can’t you see them tryin’ to get home”.
10. “What the World Needs Now-Abraham Martin & John”/Tom Clay. A whopping great mess featuring audio of the Kennedy assassinations and Martin Luther King, along with an adorable child who doesn’t know the definitions of words like prejudice and bigotry. “What the World Needs Now” would peak at #8 in a couple of weeks and swiftly disappear, but for a while, it was the record everybody wanted to hear. Clay was a DJ in Los Angeles, and his record was released on the Motown subsidiary Mowest.
2. “Indian Reservation”/The Raiders. Casey tells us that in 1959, songwriter John D. Loudermilk, trapped in his car by a snowstorm, was kidnapped and tortured by a group of Cherokees until they found out he was a songwriter, and they freed him once he agreed to write about the plight of the Indians. But the entire dramatic story, except for the snowstorm, is bullshit. Loudermilk’s own 2013 telling of the tale says only that a prominent Cherokee who knew he was a songwriter strongly urged him to write about them. Years later, Loudermilk learned that his great-great grandparents had been Cherokees—he hadn’t known it before—and were marched west on the Trail of Tears.
1. “You’ve Got a Friend”/James Taylor. And here, Casey fumbles another one. He says that Taylor first came to prominence the previous summer when “Fire and Rain” became a hit, but that he had also appeared on a hit record the year before that: “Smile a Little Smile for Me” by the Flying Machine. And that’s a giant howling error. Taylor was in a group called the Flying Machine in 1966 and 1967, but the Flying Machine of “Smile a Little Smile for Me” wasn’t it. The latter group was English. In Casey’s defense, it’s a mistake countless others have made over the years, including (probably) me.
Although “You’ve Got a Friend” would spend only a single week at #1, I am convinced that it might be the last piece of pop culture of any kind from 1971 to endure into the distant future. It would be quite something for a recording to remain popular for, say, 100 years. But now that Taylor’s has made it for 42, the last 58 should be easy.