(Above: Singer and record-label entrepreneur Richie Havens, 1972.)
The spring of 1971 is far enough gone that what remains of it in memory is flashes and glimpses, obscured in the fog of 40-plus years. The newspapers aren’t all that helpful. That May, there was an earthquake in Turkey and American negotiators were talking with the Soviet Union about nuclear weapons and North Vietnam about American POWs, which might have happened on any day in the early 70s. Here in Wisconsin, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved the first phase of construction for a new University of Wisconsin medical center, which is now our massive UW Hospital complex just west of downtown.
I was in the fifth grade at Northside School. Although I had a tiny transistor radio with an earphone jack (and the Green Bay Packers logo on the radio—of all the lost material things of childhood, it’s one I most wish I still had), I wasn’t sneaking it to school and keeping it in my pocket all day. My main radio was still the infamous green plastic Westinghouse tube-type that sat on the low toy cabinet next to my bed, and I listened to WLS whenever I could. And I was absorbing the music of May like the proverbial sponge. I was already pretending to be a DJ, imitating the guys on WLS. Not only that: I had graduated from collecting WLS music surveys whenever I could get them to creating my own. I would rank the songs based on my perceptions of what I liked and how often I was hearing it. The biggest problem I had was waiting a week before it felt right to do another one.
I am not going to write in detail about the songs of May 1971, since I live-blogged a Casey Kasem countdown from that period last year. But as I browse the WLS survey from the week of May 17th, what jumps out at me is how many of the record company names I remember. This was an important part of my survey-making—if WLS did it, I had to do it, too. Read about them on the flip.
—Richie Havens’ “Here Comes the Sun” was on the Stormy Forest label, and there’s never been a prettier name for a record company. Havens co-owned the label, and he’s its only artist you know, unless you’re related to singers Kathy Smith and Tom Brimm or the people in a band called Montreal.
—“Put Your Hand in the Hand” by Ocean and “Tarkio Road” by Brewer and Shipley were both on Kama Sutra, a label whose history is closely linked to that of Buddah, purveyors of fine hand-crafted bubblegum music. The joint history of the labels is way too detailed to summarize here, so go read this instead.
—Sunflower Records, like Kama Sutra in its early days, was distributed by MGM. Its first releases in 1970 were of live Grateful Dead recordings from 1966. Daddy Dewdrop’s “Chick-a-Boom” was its greatest hit, although the label also released singles by Frankie Laine, Bobby Taylor, R. B. Greaves, and Frank “Music Box Dancer” Mills, whose “Love Me Love Me Love” was a modest hit for Sunflower in 1972.
—Calla Records was tangled up with Morris Levy, the famously mobbed-up executive who ran Roulette Records, and its founder ended up murdered. “I Love You for All Seasons,” girl-group soul by the Fuzz, was not the label’s biggest hit—that was J. J. Jackson’s “But It’s Alright.” The label released the Bob Marley album Birth of a Legend and some stuff by the Persuaders.
—Tom Jones (“Puppet Man”) was on Parrot, a subsidiary of the London label, along with lots of other famous people: Engelbert Humperdinck, Savoy Brown, Them, the Zombies, Frijid Pink, and Joe Tex among them. Others released on Parrot at one time or another include the Ides of March, Genesis, Terry Jacks, and Flip Cartridge, a particular favorite of this blog simply because of his name.
One of the things we’ve lost with the demise of the 45 is the 45 label. If you click the links above, you’ll see that some of them were gorgeous.