Listen to the Music

(Pictured: delegates to the 1972 Democratic National Convention listen to George McGovern accept the nomination. Not pictured: reporters Walter Klondike and David Stinkley.)

Every now and then American Top 40 hits a streak that captures the full, glorious panoply of 70s music, and even more than that, demonstrates just how much damn fun it was to listen to the radio back then. The show from November 18, 1972, contains one such sequence:

23. “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues”/Danny O’Keefe
22. “Operator”/Jim Croce
21. “It Never Rains in Southern California”/Albert Hammond
20. “I’m Stone in Love With You”/Stylistics
19. “Burning Love”/Elvis Presley
18. “Ventura Highway”/America
17. “Thunder and Lightning”/Chi Coltrane
16. “Listen to the Music”/Doobie Brothers
15. “You Ought to Be With Me”/Al Green

It all came crashing to a halt at #14 with Chuck Berry’s execrable “My Ding-a-Ling,” but at least Casey’s modern-day producers had the good sense to shorten it.

They might have done the same down at #27 with Cashman and West’s “American City Suite.” Made up of three different songs patched together (“Sweet City Song,” “All Around the Town,” and “A Friend Is Dying”), “American City Suite” is an arty and ambitious record obviously striving for Relevance—a tribute to New York City fraught with fears about its future, apparently. It’s a big, unwieldy mess that runs 7:42 (edited down from nearly 11:00), and Casey played nearly every second of it.

Casey also played all five minutes of “Convention ’72” by the Delegates. It’s a break-in record detailing “the first get-together convention of Republicans and Democrats,” and it must have sounded mighty odd to listeners who happened to hear the November 18 show when it was rebroadcast around the country last month. (Those who didn’t remember the controversy surrounding the replacement of George McGovern’s original choice for running mate, Senator Thomas Eagleton, with Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver likely found it even more incomprehensible.) “Convention ’72” features “David Stinkley,” “Walter Klondike,” and “Sidney Bruntley,” the latter of whom is for some reason portrayed as a flaming homosexual, talking to famous political figures, who respond in clips from 1972 hits.

“Convention ’72” was written by Nick Censi and Nick Kousaleous, a couple of record moguls in Pittsburgh. Local DJ Bob DeCarlo of KQV provided the reporters’ voices. In 1984, DeCarlo told a reporter for Radio and Records that the three of them put the record together “for fun in my kitchen.” The three men worried about getting permission to use the song clips they had chosen for the record, so they asked the king of the break-in record, Dickie Goodman, for advice. Goodman told them, “You just do it and wait for the suits to come in.” Only one did.

For a few weeks around the 1972 presidential election, “Convention ’72” was a rage. It hit the Hot 100 on October 21 at #80 and cruised up the charts, going to #57 to #26 to #9 and finally to #8, its chart peak, for the week of November 18. It slipped to #11 for the week of the 25th, then to #28, and crashed then out of the Hot 100 altogether, as novelties will do. The song outperformed its national number in Seattle, DC, Phoenix, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Chicago, where it reached #5 at WCFL. Across town, WLS didn’t play it—like KQV, WLS was owned by ABC, and to avoid conflict-of-interest charges, no ABC owned-and-operated station played it. (I can’t verify whether KQV did.)

Elsewhere, the November 18, 1972, AT40 show includes weirdly un-commercial rock singles (Grand Funk’s “Rock and Roll Soul,” Alice Cooper’s “Elected,” the Band’s “Don’t Do It”), magnificent Philly soul classics (“Me and Mrs. Jones,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” “I’ll Be Around”), a couple of nods to the women’s liberation movement (Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” and Bread’s “Sweet Surrender,” which contains the lines “you keep your rights / I’ll take your nights”), and an Osmonds record heavy enough to impress Led Zeppelin (“Crazy Horses”). All in all, it’s one of the most purely entertaining AT40 shows I’ve ever heard.

4 responses

  1. “Convention ’72” was the first break-in record I’d ever heard (I was 14 when it came out), and I loved the idea. I wasn’t aware of any of Dickie Goodman’s work at that time. I even bought the Delegates’ ALBUM, which is filled with other politically themed break-in bits (and yes, lisping Sidney Bruntley is on there too) and which is still in my vinyl collection. I like how break-in records are instant time capsules of the hit songs of their era. I’m surprised “Convention ’72” lingered on the chart a couple of weeks after the election; one would think that its shelf life would have gone stale the very next day.

  2. ’72 is almost certainly my favorite year of Seventies Top 40, and I think the year got better as it went on.
    (The entire countdown would be worth hearing just for the three Philly-soul singles you mention. Monumental, every one.)

    I love the description of “a couple of record moguls in Pittsburgh.” Makes me think of cigar-chewing guys haggling over the phone about those few cents extra per crate they’re not getting from some sleazy distributor.

    Finally, I don’t think “Rock and Roll Soul” or “Elected” are weirdly uncommercial.
    The former is just about as well-groomed and consciously commercial as GFR had ever gotten to that point.
    The latter is a little manic, maybe, but never disagreeably dissonant, and Coop invests it with all the gusto he can manage.

  3. I wasn’t listening to the radio at all in 1972 (I first started listening in 1971, then lost interest after a while), but even I was aware of “My Ding a Ling”. It was an instant playground classic, for obvious reasons. I even bought it. Hey, I was ten.

    The break-in records to me are the most unlistenable oldies in existence. An interesting curiosity I guess, but in the end they’re supposed to be funny, and I just find them so painfully, awkwardly unfunny. Even the thought of listening to one nowadays makes me cringe.

  4. Andy, I can do you one better: I even bought the album that “My Ding a Ling” came from, “London Sessions,” because I wanted to get the long version of the song. While I probably haven’t played that record in 42 years, I do recall that it was interesting hearing the parts of the song that were edited out of the single. There are a couple of things Chuck says in the single that didn’t make sense, and hearing the full version puts those comments in context. As for break-in records, I still get a kick out them but more as time capsules than actual displays of comedy. I agree that almost all of them are simply not funny.

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