(Pictured: James Brown, photographed in 1968 by Walter Iooss Jr., who did much of his most famous shooting for Sports Illustrated.)
Most of the music surveys at the fabulous Airheads Radio Survey Archive are from Top 40 stations. The ones from other formats open an interesting window into music history. Take the one from WWRL in New York City dated January 27, 1972. The R&B station ranks its top 16 songs (because its frequency was 1600 on AM), but its survey also includes listings of top-selling albums and singles from four different music distributors doing business in the New York area. Since there are so many to choose from, let’s pick 10 instead of our customary five, in no particular order.
“Son of Shaft”/Barkays, “Shaft”/Joe Bataan, and “Shaft”/Chosen Few. Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft” had fallen out of the Hot 100 a couple of weeks before, but other acts were taking advantage of its enormous popularity. On “Son of Shaft,” Hayes’ Stax labelmates re-purposed his scratchy rhythm guitar, heavy beat, horny horns, and cooing background singers. Although the whole thing tends to lose its way at around the two-minute mark, it’s easy to see the appeal to many listeners who dug “Theme From Shaft.” But not as many, as it made only #53 on the pop chart. Joe Bataan’s “Shaft” is a straight-up cover that feels about half again as fast as the original. Bataan, a native New Yorker, would go on to co-found the Salsoul label later in the decade. The Chosen Few version is a reggae take by a Jamaican band that looks to have made a career out of cover songs.
“Gimme Some More”/JBs, “Keep on Doin'”/Bobby Byrd, and “Talking Loud”/James Brown. Besides Shaft, the other major cultural force in early ’72 R&B was James Brown. The JBs were Brown’s band and Byrd his longtime collaborator. “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing (Part 1)” would reach #27 on the pop chart, another in the long string of Brown’s ferocious funk joints that would make it onto American Top 40 without being played by many of the show’s affiliates.
“Taurus”/Dennis Coffey. I did not expect to see Melanie, Rod Stewart, and the Osmond Brothers on this survey, but for a white guy, Dennis Coffey clearly belongs. He’d already scored on the pop and R&B charts with “Scorpio” late in 1971 and played on sessions for everyone, including Motown’s Funk Brothers. Coffey rocks like crazy on “Taurus,” as if he were trying to hold off the Great Mellowing of the 70s all by himself. Dude is on fire.
“The Day I Found Myself”/Honey Cone. The year 1971 had been good to Honey Cone, with “Want Ads” (#1 pop), “Stick-Up” (#11), and “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” (#15). “The Day I Found Myself” is spectacular girl-group soul and should have done as well, or better.
“I Think About Loving You”/Earth Wind & Fire. Two years before their first Top 40 hit (“Mighty Mighty”) and three years before “Shining Star,” EW&F were getting the sound. “I Think About Loving You,” from the group’s second album The Need of Love, didn’t make the pop chart. The horn and organ backing track has some great breaks, and the whole record has a mellow vibe that you can get lost in.
“Chitlins and Cuchifritos”/Joe Thomas. Our friend Larry Grogan pulled this out of his crates about a year ago, so go read his post to learn more about it. For those of you who may be white people of northern European extraction, cuchifritos are Puerto Rican fried dishes containing various pork parts: ears, stomachs, tails, and so forth.
WWRL went on the air in 1926 and had studios at the same location for 79 years. It’s still on the air today with the same call letters, still on 1600. It programmed mostly to an African-American audience until 2006 when it became the New York affiliate of the Air America talk network. In 2014, it went all-Spanish.