If you have watched much TV lately, you’ve seen the USAA Insurance ad in which a young woman says her policy was earned “orbiting the moon in 1971.” She’s referring to the flight of Stuart Roosa, command module pilot aboard Apollo 14, who I presume is her grandfather. Roosa’s crewmates were original Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, who would famously hit a golf ball during his moon walk, and Edgar Mitchell, who reportedly did ESP experiments while on the surface of the moon, and has spoken repeatedly since of his belief that UFOs represent genuine extraterrestrial visitations. So they were an unusual group of men—and their mission to the moon launched on January 31, 1971.
That day was a Sunday. If you watched The Ed Sullivan Show that night—then heading toward cancellation later in the spring after 23 years on the air—you’d have seen the Temptations, on the show for the fifth time in four years, singing their new song, “Just My Imagination,” along with a medley of recent Motown hits that also included George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” The Jackson Five played a show in their hometown, Gary, Indiana. The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Detroit Pistons 131-104; the Bucks ran their record to 44-and-9 on the way to their only NBA championship later in the spring. The “Winter Soldier” investigation sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War” began in Detroit. A protester was shot to death at an antiwar rally in Los Angeles.
In Salt Lake City, KCPX was playing the hits, and not necessarily the same ones that other stations were playing elsewhere in the country, including (from their survey dated February 1, 1971):
5. “Most of All”/B. J. Thomas. I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for this song about a guy on a train, and the lovely last verse:
Tomorrow there’ll be snow in Minnesota
But I won’t be around to watch it fall
I’ll be heading for an old familiar station
Hopin’ you still love me most of all
There’s a spectacular version of “Most of All” in which Thomas teams with acoustic bluesman Keb’ Mo’, which you should go and listen to right now. It’s from an album of duets he released last year, which you and I should probably go and buy right now.
11. “Nothing Rhymed”/Gilbert O’Sullivan (up from 17). Over a year-and-a-half before most of us would hear of this guy thanks to “Alone Again (Naturally),” he was moping on this.
13. “D.O.A.”/Bloodrock (down from 8) and 14. “1900 Yesterday”/Liz Damon’s Orient Express (down from 13). KCPX was on “D.O.A” before most of the country, charting it at #1 for the week of December 21, 1970, a couple of weeks before it hit the Hot 100. Outraging the public decency is a good career move; 40-plus years later, “D.O.A.,” the thoughts of a guy dying after being injured an accident, is the only thing Bloodrock is remembered for, even though it’s complete garbage. It’s supposed to be eerie, but it’s not—it’s just exploitative and stupid. “1900 Yesterday,” on the other hand, is eerie in the best way, and as evanescent as the smoke from a cigarette. (Together, those two records represent one of the great train-wrecks of all time, and #15, “Hang on to Your Life” by the Guess Who, only adds to the carnage.)
19. “Whole Lotta Love”/C.C.S. The Led Zeppelin song covered by a band made up of several members of Blue Mink including famed session bassist Herbie Flowers. It was the theme for the British TV show Top of the Pops for much of the 70s.
I would certainly have watched the Apollo 14 launch that afternoon. If the Bucks were on TV—and I don’t know if they were—I’d have been watching that, too, for I was a huge fan that winter. (A year to the day before, I had attended my first Bucks game, at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison. The program I bought that day is still around here somewhere.)
I can’t say I remember anything else about that day, except for the music. It’s what I expect to remember when I’ve forgotten everything else.