(Pictured: 70s revelers see in a new year, while geeky teenagers stay home and listen to the countdown.)
American Top 40‘s year-end countdowns varied in length between 1970 and 1973—the top 80 in 1970 and 1972, the top 40 in 1971 and 1973—but by 1974, Casey and company had settled on the top 100, broadcast in two parts, eight hours in all, over two weekends around Christmas and New Year’s. I have been listening to the year-end countdown from 1975 lately, and it might be my favorite edition of AT40 ever. It’s almost all killer and no filler. The crazed variety that made Top 40 radio so much fun in the 70s is clearly evident, and clunkers are few. In addition, although one of the strengths of AT40 in any given week is the balance between Casey and the music, the 1975 countdown seems especially well-constructed: anecdotes are brief, mostly recaps of a record’s chart performance or a quick bit of trivia about the artist’s career, and then it’s back to the hits. There are no lengthy stories or extras to slow the show’s momentum.
A few other observations:
—The survey year covered November to November, so a few key hits from the preceding year would always appear, and some from late in the current year would be missing. Casey reminds the audience of this repeatedly—I lost count after he mentioned it a half-dozen times.
—In compiling the top 100, Billboard listed several ties for year-end positions: “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” by BTO and “Third Rate Romance” by the Amazing Rhythm Aces at #97, “Never Can Say Goodbye” by Gloria Gaynor and “Cut the Cake” by AWB at #71, and others. This strikes me weird, and it makes me wonder about the methodology used to compile the chart. If there had been a tie for #1, I am guessing they would have found a way to resolve it, but maybe not.
—And how is it that “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” which hit #1, comes in well behind other songs, some of which failed to make the top 10 at all?
—When playing John Denver’s “I’m Sorry” and “Calypso,” the two-sided hit from that summer, Casey notes a survey taken among Miss USA contestants in 1975. They were asked to pick the “best man in the world.” The winner, with eight votes: Henry Kissinger. (Dear sweet naïve days of the 1970s, we miss you so.) In second place, with three votes: then-president Gerald Ford. In third place, with two votes each, a tie: Billy Graham and John Denver.
—At one point in the countdown, Casey remarks that 250 different songs made the Top 40 in 1975. The top 100 therefore represents 40 percent of the year’s radio music—a larger percentage than I would have guessed.
—At #63, Casey introduces “Only Women” by Alice Cooper by saying that it’s a change from Cooper’s usual brand of outrageousness, mock executions and so forth. Casey calls the song “a touching tribute to women.” And that is a monumental misreading of Cooper’s intentions. The song’s actual title is “Only Women Bleed,” but when it was issued as a single, Cooper’s record label titled it “Only Women,” and that’s how it was known during its run on the radio. By 1975 standards, it’s pretty graphic in its description of the life of an abused wife (“slaps you once in a while and you live in love and pain”, “black eyes all of the time . . . come watch me bleed”). It has the feel of a ballad, but Cooper’s delivery is more creepy than touching, and in fact, “Only Women Bleed” is as much a horror show as “Welcome to My Nightmare,” “I Love the Dead,” or Cooper’s other transgressive songs. Casey was not alone in misreading it: in 1975, almost everybody really really really wanted to believe it was about something other than it is.
I’ll have more about the 1975 year-end countdown in a future installment, probably.