Yesterday, When We Were Young

(Pictured: singer/picker Roy Clark raises a toast to you, just before he runs you over.)

You may remember that I carry a torch for the days of locally programmed, small-town Top 40 radio. Babylon, New York, qualifies as a small town, even though it’s on the urbanized western end of Long Island, only about 25 miles from New York City. And from the 50s to the 70s (as best I can tell given the scanty amount of information online), WGLI was rockin’ Babylon on AM 1290. During the week of July 21, 1969, the station’s Mighty 12 & 90 Survey, published in the Babylon Beacon newspaper, revealed a station doing its own thing, playing the big hits of the day sprinkled with the sort of oddballs we love around here.

19.  “Good Old Rock & Roll”/Cat Mother. Full name Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys, this band’s claim to fame is twofold: their album The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away was produced by Jimi Hendrix, and they were on the bill at the famous Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in September 1969 that included a surprise appearance by John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. At its formation, Cat Mother included a fiddle player named Jay Ungar. Although he wasn’t with the group when it recorded “Good Old Rock & Roll,” he rejoined for a 1970 album. Ungar is best known today as a folk musician, and for writing and performing “Ashokan Farewell,” the iconic theme heard in the 1990 Ken Burns documentary The Civil War.

20.  “My Pledge of Love”/Joe Jeffrey Group. I’ve written here about Gerry Rafferty Syndrome, where your first hit is the best record you could possibly make, and the rest of your career is spent trying to live up to it. But Rafferty had a successful career before “Baker Street” and for years thereafter. Better we should call it Joe Jeffrey Syndrome. “My Pledge of Love” is utter perfection that made #14 on the Hot 100, the Top 10 in just about every significant radio market in the United States and Canada, and #1 in Atlantic City. The group, based in Cleveland, followed it with four more singles, but nothing caught on and the band drifted into history.

23.  “Abergavenny”/Shannon. There are certain titles that have caught my eye on various music surveys over the years but I’ve never looked them up to listen. “Abergavenny” is one. It’s not particularly good, but it’s notable because Shannon was Marty Wilde, part of the first generation of homegrown British pop stars. Impresario Larry Parnes gave them names like Billy Fury, Tommy Steele, Johnny Gentle, Georgie Fame . . . and Marty Wilde, who was born Reg Smith. (Wilde’s daughter, Kim Wilde, scored a handful of American hits in the 80s, including the #1 “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”)

30.  “Yesterday When I Was Young”/Roy Clark. I am betting that few people today remember “Yesterday When I Was Young,” although it was a significant multi-format hit in the summer of 1969, peaking at #6 Easy Listening, #9 country, and #19 on the Hot 100. It was also widely covered, by everybody from Bing Crosby to Lena Horne to Dusty Springfield to Andy Williams. The song was written by French crooner Charles Aznavour, which explains the feeling of it: a tired and dissipated man sits alone in the dark, resigned to a fate he knows he deserves. Very continental.

Pick Hit: “True Grit”/Glen Campbell. It couldn’t have hurt WGLI to deliberately program some adult flavor alongside “Mother Popcorn” (#14) and “Honky Tonk Women” (#38). True Grit was one of the top movies of the moment, a western starring John Wayne with Campbell in a supporting role; the title song went #7 Easy Listening, #9 country, and #35 on the Hot 100.

In the summer of 1969, the radio was on at our house, because it was always on. I would have heard Roy Clark and Glen Campbell as I went about my nine-year-old routine, getting ready for the county fair or going off to play park-and-rec baseball. I did not imagine looking back on it from another summer 48 years in the future, because people aren’t wired that way. But here we are just the same.

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6 responses

  1. Roy Clark went on to song a snippet of “Yesterday When I Was Young” on one of the greatest-ever episodes of “The Odd Couple.”

  2. 1969 was my best year ever (at least from the adolescent perspective). The year I got my driver’s license, my third class radiotelephone permit, and started “officially” working at the local station (after having hung around for years). I certainly do recall Mr. Clark’s song, thank you. The one I was surprised to see listed was “Abergavenny,” which our station did not play until 1970! (I need to look that up to confirm, but I do recall the P.D. doing a particular schtick with the song each time he played it, and he didn’t arrive until ’70. Maybe it was a recurrent?) Thanks for sharing the blast from 1969!

  3. “Abergavenny” was something I would have sworn I hadn’t heard until 20 years ago when I heard an aircheck it was on. But then, I look and KHJ played it all the way to number 13 in the summer of ’69, when I blew through transistor batteries weekly from having it on so much—so it just fell into a black hole in my brain.

    And I hated…..hated, hated HATED…”Yesterday, When I Was Young”. Too slow, too depressing, too long. And it and Henry Mancini’s “Love Theme From ‘Romeo and Juliet’ were both in the Top 10 at KHJ in late June. So you could count on running that awesome Boss (actually, they’d just entered the “don’t say “boss” phase) momentum right into a brick wall twice every 90 minutes.

    Actually, looking at the Boss 30 (they’d still call the playlist “Boss” for almost two more years) that final week of June, I only see about 10 records I’d call hits today:

    http://93khj.blogspot.com/2008/08/khj-boss-30-june-25-1969.html

  4. Hated, hated, HATED “Yesterday, When I Was Young” at the time. An epic downer that screwed up the summer vibe on the radio. KHJ had this and Henry Mancini’s “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet” in the top 10 at the same time, so you were never more than 40 minutes or so from having that famous Boss momentum run right into a wall.

    In fact, in Roy Clark’s peak week on the Boss 30, only about ten of the songs are what I would today call hits:

    http://93khj.blogspot.com/2008/08/khj-boss-30-june-25-1969.html

  5. 1969 indeed was a great year- I graduated from high school, was on my way to college and spent the summer driving my ’69 red Mustang Fastback all around LA. The song i remember most of that wonderful summer in Southern California was ” Wishful Sinful” by The Doors- a haunting, last breath of psychedelia. “Wishful Sinful Wicked Blue” … memorable lyrics which also happens to be my dog’s full name . Thanks for the trip back.

  6. Apologies for the double post. I waited 36 hours, figured something had gone wrong and took another, shorter shot at it.

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