(Above: Blue Swede, avatar of mysterious forces.)
Forty years ago this spring, I first heard American Top 40, up there in my bedroom, from WROK in Rockford, Illinois. I wrote down the titles and artists song by song, often having to pick out the last few through the static after WROK cut its power at sunset. The show from April 27, 1974, was a recent weekend rerun, and it’s one I remember hearing back then.
A couple of production elements are different on this show. Each segment usually contains one or more jingles back-to-back, which is where you would have heard a commercial break back in the day. This show has not nearly so many, but I don’t see anything on the original cue sheet that indicates why. In addition, Casey puts music beds under some of his song introductions, which we rarely hear on other shows.
Now on with the countdown.
40. “Mighty Mighty”/Earth Wind & Fire and 32. “The Payback”/James Brown. I loved both of these records that spring, neither of which I was hearing anywhere other than American Top 40.
37. “Thanks for Saving My Life”/Billy Paul. No, “Me and Mrs. Jones” was not Billy Paul’s only Top 40 hit. “Thanks for Saving My Life” is a pretty good record, even though Billy and his backup singers seem to be doing two different songs: they’re tight, funky, and sassy, but he’s all over the place like he was singing jazz.
33. “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”/Stevie Wonder. Some radio stations edit out Stevie’s faux-Spanish rap, in which he says, “Todo ‘stá bien chévere” which, as best I can tell, means “everything’s cool.” I think I liked it better when I thought he was saying “Chevrolet.”
28. “Tell Me a Lie”/Sami Jo. Until the other day, it had probably been 40 years since I heard this song. Sami Jo was a country singer from Arkansas who cut her first records with Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals before scoring for another label and producer with “Tell Me a Lie.” The song was published by Hall’s company, but his name isn’t on it otherwise, and I don’t know if any of his musicians are on it, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s the kind of deep Southern soul that made Muscle Shoals famous, and you’re hard-pressed to tell whether Sami was black or white—not that it makes any difference.
27. “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend”/Staple Singers. Before which Casey welcomes three new stations to the lineup, including KROS in Clinton, Iowa. Unbeknownst to the 1974 me, I would someday work in Clinton, Iowa, for a competitor of KROS.
25. “A Very Special Love Song”/Charlie Rich. Am I the only one who thinks “A Very Special Love Song” beats the hell out of both “Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl”?
19. “The Streak”/Ray Stevens, 18. “The Entertainer”/Marvin Hamlisch, and 17. “The Lord’s Prayer”/Sister Janet Mead. Behold, it is the golden age of the novelty song.
13. “The Show Must Go On”/Three Dog Night. Casey introduces this with an explanation that “the show must go on” is not a phrase from the theater saying that no matter what befalls the show, it will go on as scheduled, but a phrase from the circus saying that no matter what befalls the show, it will go on as scheduled. (OK, then.) That intro is followed by the full-length version of the song, which spends its last five minutes (estimate, possibly inaccurate) incrementally slowing the tempo of its main circus theme until it stops.
6. “Hooked on a Feeling”/Blue Swede.“Hooked on a Feeling” isn’t just the distilled essence of 70s pop, it’s the essence of the 70s itself—inspired by whatever mysterious and demented forces made shag carpeting and earth shoes seem perfectly normal and natural. (See also #4.)
5. “Oh My My”/Ringo Starr. Introducing this, Casey name-checks some stations, like “KMEN—K-men” in San Bernardino, California, which was indeed known as K-Men. But then he wigs out and moves on to “wife,” “wing,” and “wilk.”
4. “The Locomotion”/Grand Funk. Casey says some AT40 staffers are betting that this will make #1. And if so, somebody will win next week.
1. “T.S.O.P.”/MFSB. As close to perfect as a record can be. Magnificent 40 years ago, and magnificent still.