Category Archives: American Top 40

Don’t Ya Just Love It

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(Pictured: Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles onstage in 1971.)

The American Top 40 show from May 8, 1971, was a recent weekend repeat, although if your local affiliate didn’t carry it, I’m not surprised. Too bad for them, because I found the show to be fabulously entertaining for a lot of reasons, some of which are listed below.

40.  “Don’t Change on Me”/Ray Charles. From the album Love Country Style, “Don’t Change on Me” would spend four weeks on the show and reach #36, although it hit the top 10 at KHJ in Los Angeles and KNUZ in Houston. It’s not all that country, and is pleasant but not essential.

38. “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People”/Chi-Lites. Which Casey introduces by telling you that there’s nothing wrong with your radio; it’s just the way the group has chosen to start the record.

37.  “Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley/C Company Featuring Terry Nelson. Which we discussed in an earlier post at this blog.

32.  “Eighteen”/Alice Cooper. This was listed on the Love It to Death album as “I’m Eighteen,” which is how it’s known today. But on the original 45 issue, it was called simply “Eighteen.”

30.  “Right on the Tip of My Tongue”/Brenda and the Tabulations. One of the finest, oddest group names in pop history, and a fine soul record too.

25.  “Here Comes the Sun”/Richie Havens and 19. “We Can Work It Out”/Stevie Wonder. Two Beatle covers in this week’s countdown, along with three Beatles as solo acts. As it happens, I bought both of these on 45s in the sping of 1971, before I knew the Beatles’ version of either one.

In the early years of the show, Casey would occasionally play a song from the #1 album on the Billboard chart, which is Jesus Christ Superstar this week. He’s already played Murray Head’s “Superstar” (#27) and Helen Reddy’s version of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” (#28), so he chooses the exhilarating Palm Sunday song “Hosanna,” which I hadn’t heard in many, many years. It was snipped from the remastered repeat but offered as an extra to fill unsold commercial time.

15.  “Just My Imagination”/Temptations. There are few things in this world better than “Just My Imagination.” Other songs, books, movies, foods, sexual acts, you name it.

14.  “Another Day”/Paul McCartney
13.  “Brown Sugar”/Rolling Stones
12.  “Love Her Madly”/Doors
11. “Power to the People”/John Lennon
Despite the fact that it includes neither Paul’s nor John’s best work, that’s nevertheless a dang solid sequence right there. “Brown Sugar” is up 27 spots from #40 last week. It would go to #6 the next week, then #3, and finally #1 for the weeks of May 29 and June 5, 1971.

9.  “Chick-a-Boom”/Daddy Dewdrop. There were better, more critically acclaimed and historically important records on this chart, but there wasn’t one I enjoyed hearing more than “Chick-a-Boom.” (AM radio-processed version here.)

8.  “Bridge Over Troubled Water”/Aretha Franklin
7.  “Stay Awhile”/Bells
EXTRA: “Somewhere My Love”/Ray Conniff Singers
6.  “What’s Going On”/Marvin Gaye
5.  “If”/Bread
These are all records I’ve written about before, and I’m extremely fond of them all. Aretha takes “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to church as only she can; “Stay Awhile” sounded romantic to 11-year-old me, as much as an 11-year-old can understand such a thing; the first post ever at this blog, back in 2004, was titled “What’s Going On,” and the record is Peak Marvin; “If” is two minutes and 33 seconds of perfection. And back when I was offering songs for download at this blog, “Somewhere My Love” racked up more downloads than any other. Really.

1.  “Joy to the World”/Three Dog Night. In its fourth of what would be six weeks at #1. Heard in its natural habitat, up against all the other radio hits of the day, and keeping in mind that it first charted in March, a time of year when we throw open the windows and joyfully welcome the return of spring, you realize that there was no force in the universe capable of stopping it from hitting #1. And it took the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band to knock it out.

The remastered repeat also included Fats Domino’s “My Blue Heaven” “and “There! I’ve Said It Again” by Bobby Vinton, in addition to “Somewhere My Love.” In 1971, those songs were not that old—15, seven, and five years respectively—but today, they just don’t fit anymore. Our world is so changed from the world of 1971 that it might as well be in an entirely different galaxy.

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Flowers Growing Wild

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(Pictured: Edgar Winter, performing on ABC’s late-night music show, In Concert.)

Over the years, I’ve frequently gotten two posts out of a single edition of American Top 40. So that makes this post a record-breaker of a sort: a third one from the show dated April 21, 1973. Having discussed the first hour as well as the song at #1, here are a few noteworthy bits from elsewhere.

When Dick Clark guest-hosted in March 1972, it was he who suggested that instead of recording the show live in real time, Casey’s bits could be scripted in advance and tracked all at once, with the engineers piecing the show together later. I suspect, however, that the 4/21/73 show was done in real time, and here’s why: over the introduction to “Hallelujah Day” by the Jackson Five (#31), Casey wanted to list the 4 #1 singles the Jackson Five had to date. He mentioned “ABC,” “I Want You Back,” and “I’ll Be There,” but in a peculiarly halting way not at all characteristic of his smooth style.

The reason was that he was trying to think of the fourth title, and he couldn’t remember it.

There is a particular feeling when you, the jock, get into a bit and it starts to go haywire. I’ve experienced it more times than I care to remember. With the song intro starting to run out, Casey was considering two questions at once: A) “what’s the goddamn fourth song?” and B) “how can I salvage this if I don’t think of it?” He eventually opted for B, saying “There’s a fourth song I can’t remember! Here’s ‘Hallelujah Day.'”

(Casey came out of “Hallelujah Day” by mentioning that the song he couldn’t remember was “The Love You Save.” In his defense, that’s the one everybody forgets.)

Back to back at #27 and #26 are two songs that couldn’t be more different, but which both suffer from the same thing: overzealous production. “Out of the Question” by Gilbert O’Sullivan is a little gimmicky simply as a song. Then producer Gordon Mills adds various musical accents and flourishes that sound OK for a minute-and-a-half, but by the end, the record is simply trying too hard. “Funky Worm,” the self-produced first hit by the Ohio Players, hits a pretty good groove, especially with what was then a groundbreaking ARP synthesizer line, but renders itself unlistenable with a speeded-up “worm” voice yammering all the way through it.

The highest-debuting song of the week is Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” at #25, coming in from #41 on the Hot 100 the week before. WLS had charted it for the first time in the same week, so it wouldn’t have been long before I went out and bought the 45. It had been a while since I’d heard the edit, which cuts the 4:44 album version to 3:28, and it improves quite a bit on the original.

The week’s #24 hit, “Daisy a Day” by Jud Strunk, created yet another train wreck on a show that’s full of them. Strunk’s gentle, sentimental tale about a couple’s love that survives the death of one of them made #14 on the Hot 100 in a 16-week run (although WLS only charted it for two weeks), and #4 on Easy Listening. Strunk was a multimedia star, having been a regular during the last season of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, which aired its last original episode in March. The wreck is redoubled with #23, “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Deodato. This is the third time I’ve heard it on old AT40s this year, and every time, it’s been shortened, either by the engineers in 1973 or today.

Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years,” checking in at #22, joins “Frankenstein” and “Hocus Pocus” (#39) as the hardest-rockin’ records on this chart. The #1 album in the nation during this week was rockin’ too: Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies, which makes quite a contrast with the Dawn/Vicki Lawrence/Carpenters threesome topping the singles chart.

Up at #20 is “Wildflower” by Skylark, which Casey introduces by name-checking its producer, Eirik the Norwegian. (Although Casey didn’t explain, that’s Eirik Wangberg, who got his nickname from Paul McCartney after doing some engineering on the album Ram.) I wrote earlier this year about my growing interest in girls during the spring I turned 13, and how I was less interested in physical action than in simply making some pretty girl happy. The girl in “Wildflower” clearly needed a man like me, because “she’s faced the hardest times you could imagine / And many times her eyes fought back the tears.” Thirteen-year-old me promised himself that he would never do anything to make her cry. But that free and gentle flower was not growing wild in any field I knew of.

Cherry Cherry . . . or Not

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(Pictured: Neil Diamond onstage in 1972.)

One thing I am learning from this series of posts on 1973 is that the music is better than I remember. I’m not saying that 1973 is going to supplant 1976 or 1971 as one of my favorite musical years, but it’s better than I remember.

Take for example the American Top 40 show from April 21, 1973. It starts with “A Letter to Myself,” a gorgeous soul record by the Chi-Lites that sounds like a second take of their 1971 hit “Have You Seen Her.” It creates a big ol’ train wreck with #39, the rockin’ good “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, in its first week on the chart. Also sounding really good in the first hour: “Step by Step” by Joe Simon at #37. How it failed to become a smash on the order of “Drowning in the Sea of Love” or “Power of Love” I can’t imagine. Elton John’s “Daniel” is in its first week on at #35, creating another train wreck with #34, “Oh La De Da” by the Staple Singers, a straight-up soul/gospel shouter. (Listeners in 1973 got a commercial break between the two, but listeners to the recent 2018 repeat did not.)

At #38 is Carly Simon’s “The Right Thing to Do,” which Casey introduces as being by “Mrs. James Taylor.” (The two had gotten married the previous November.) This caused a kerfuffle on an AT40 Facebook group I read, as several listeners who hadn’t been paying close attention wondered why Casey had introduced the record as being by James Taylor.

Digression: Facebook fan groups can be marvelous sources of information; in a well-moderated group, members collectively know everything there is to know, and it makes the group worthwhile. But less well-moderated groups can become tedious. I recently bailed on a WKRP in Cincinnati group that had never been especially great, but which got downright stupid once MeTV started repeating the shows. Ill-informed viewers started besieging the group with questions that 10 seconds on Google could answer. What was worse was the flame war that erupted when MeTV chose not to air the episode “Les on a Ledge,” in which Les Nessman contemplates suicide because he fears people think he’s homosexual, and Johnny tells Herb that Jennifer is transgender. Some readers could understand how the episode would play differently 40 years later and that it would indeed be offensive now, but others were quick to call them politically correct libtard snowflake pussies who need to grow up.

As if Facebook needs more of that kind of thing. I’m out.

To return to the topic: Casey shared an interesting bit of trivia in the first hour. Up until this week, he tells us, only one artist has ever taken two songs into the Top 40 twice: Chubby Checker, who did it with “The Twist” (which famously went to #1 on two separate chart runs, in 1960 and 1962) and “Let’s Twist Again.” Each record ran the chart, “became a dead record for a while,” as Casey put it, and then returned to the Top 40. Then Casey says that a second artist has done the deed this week: Neil Diamond. He made the Top 40 with “Solitary Man” in 1966 and again in 1970, and now with “Cherry Cherry,” which charted in 1966 and re-enters the Top 40 this week at #36.

This achievement may be a little less than it appears, however. In the case of “The Twist” and “Let’s Twist Again,” it was the exact same record making two runs up the chart. First off, it’s arguable whether the version of “Solitary Man” that hit in 1970 was the same one that hit in 1966. I tried figuring it out 10 years ago, and even with the help of the inestimable Yah Shure, I can’t say. As Yah Shure noted, three different versions of “Solitary Man” were released on the Bang label over the years. If the 1970 hit was a remix of the 1966 version, I guess that counts. But the version of “Cherry Cherry” that charted on April 21, 1973, is definitely not the same one that spent nine weeks in the Top 40 in 1966. It’s the one from the live album Hot August Night, and was even labeled as such on the 45: “Cherry Cherry From Hot August Night.” It was listed that way in Billboard, too.

So it’s the same song, if not the same record. Technically, Neil Diamond equalled Chubby Checker’s achievement. As a practical matter, I’m not quite so sure.

I’ll probably have more to say about this edition of American Top 40 in a future post. And this Friday, I’ll discuss a different milestone from the chart dated April 21, 1973.

Too Hot

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(Pictured: Kool and the Gang looking very kool indeed.)

The American Top 40 show from March 1, 1980, was a recent weekend repeat, and when I loaded it up recently, I wasn’t expecting anything all that great. But it turned out to be a lot better than I thought it would be.

40. “Fire Lake”/Bob Seger
39. “I Thank You”/ZZ Top
It started out great, that’s for sure.

37. “Kiss Me in the Rain”/Barbra Streisand
36. “With You I’m Born Again”/Billy Preston and Syreeta
35. “Let Me Go Love”/Nicolette Larson with Michael McDonald
But it got pretty dire there for a while.

34. “Three Times in Love”/Tommy James. I adore “Three Times in Love” beyond any ability I have to explain why.

33. “Off the Wall”/Michael Jackson. You have probably forgotten about “Off the Wall,” despite the fact that it eventually hit the Top 10. You have also forgotten that “Thriller” is about half a rewrite of it.

30. “Don’t Do Me Like That”/Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
29. “Fool in the Rain”/Led Zeppelin
28. “Heartbreaker”/Pat Benatar
I am no fan of Pat Benatar, and from the very beginning. Her bad-ass rocker chick image came off as phony as a three-dollar bill to me—but “Heartbreaker” sounded OK on AT40 this week.

27. “99”/Toto. Casey mentions that people think this song is about Barbara Feldon’s character on Get Smart. That strikes me as unlikely, as Get Smart had been off the air for nearly 10 years in early 1980. It certainly never occurred to me, or anybody else I knew back then.

19. “Refugee”/Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Before playing this song, Casey answers a listener letter about albums debuting at #1, and botches it badly. It’s happened three times to date, he says: Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy in 1975, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life in 1976, and Elton again with Rock of the Westies in 1977. Wrong: Rock of the Westies was also in 1975, just five months after Captain Fantastic. And it was Elton’s third #1 album of the year, counting the greatest hits disc that came out late in 1974, so pushing it to 1977 drastically underplays just what Elton accomplished in his greatest year.

17. “September Morn”/Neil Diamond. Although KDTH, where I worked in the winter of 1980, was mostly a country station, it mixed in some adult-contemporary records throughout the day. “September Morn” takes me back to long hours in that studio and the feeling that I had arrived, even though I had barely begun the journey.

16. “Him”/Rupert Holmes. “What’s she gonna do about him? / She’s gonna have to do without him / Or do without me.” It’s easy to hear “Him” as the story of the couple in “Escape,” drifted apart again after their reunion in the bar, and as another iteration of the pop cheese Holmes was so very good at creating (which would reach its peak of perfection with the gimmicky “Answering Machine” later in 1980). But not only that: “Him” was all over the radio at the time when The Mrs., not yet The Mrs., was trying to choose between the guy she started dating when she first got to college the previous fall and a certain up-and-coming radio DJ she liked too.

(I didn’t have any feelings about Holmes’ record one way or another. She hated it.)

13. “Too Hot”/Kool and the Gang. In which the Gang’s roots as a jazz group show up like never before, or since. “Too Hot” has a swing you don’t learn any other way.

12. “Daydream Believer”/Anne Murray. The year 1979 was the best Anne Murray ever had. “I Just Fall in Love Again,” “Shadows in the Moonlight” and “Broken Hearted Me” went #1 on adult contemporary and country that year; “Daydream Believer” was #1 AC (on the first chart of 1980) and went #3 country. Oddly enough, all except “Shadows in the Moonlight” peaked at #12 on the Hot 100. And if you ever knew any of them in the first place, you probably can’t remember any of them now.

6.  “On the Radio”/Donna Summer. Like “Off the Wall,” it’s a forgotten single by a big star.

5. “Desire”/Andy Gibb. Casey says “Desire,” the sixth straight Top-10 hit for Andy, sounds like another #1 hit. It wasn’t; it would peak at #4. And not only that—it was Andy Gibb’s last Top-10 hit.

1. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”/Queen. In the second of what would be four weeks at #1. We had been playing this song on the campus radio station for months, and we were sick of it. The best thing we could say about it by March was that at least it runs only 2:42.

Living Together, Growing Together

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(Pictured: Marilyn McCoo fronts the Fifth Dimension, 1972.)

The American Top 40 show from March 3, 1973, was a recent weekend repeat. Since I am doing an ongoing series this year about 1973 (basic theme: “just what was it about that year, anyhow?”), here are some notes:

40.  “Soul Song”/Joe Stampley. For a handful of years in the middle of the 1970s, Joe Stampley was a fixture on the country charts. He’d hit #1 on the country chart three times between 1973 and 1976, most famously with “Roll on Big Mama” in 1975. “Soul Song” had gone to #1 in January and would manage to squeak to #37 on the Hot 100. His country twang, which is not all that soulful, made for a big ol’ train wreck with the next song in the countdown.

39.  “Good Morning Heartache”/Diana Ross. A torchy, jazzy number from Lady Sings the Blues, in which Miss Ross gets her Billie Holiday on.

37.  “Living Together, Growing Together”/Fifth Dimension. This marks a historic moment: the final Top 40 week in the career of the Fifth Dimension, a group responsible for a number of straight-up classics over the preceding six years, including “Up Up and Away,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” and “Aquarius,” along with the less-classic-but-still-mighty-good “One Less Bell to Answer” and “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All.” The Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “Living Together, Growing Together” is not a classic; it’s bland inspirational cheese that makes the Johnny Mann Singers sound like James Brown. (See below.)

32.  “Give Me Your Love”/Barbara Mason. It doesn’t happen often, but I occasionally hear a song on these AT40 repeats that I can’t recall hearing before. “Give Me Your Love” is one of them. It would eventually peak at #31, Mason’s biggest hit since “Yes I’m Ready” in 1965. If it wasn’t remixed or re-released in the disco era, it should have been; the ingredients are in the test tube.

27.  “I Got Ants in My Pants (And I Want to Dance)/James Brown. One of the all-time-great Casey introductions: “Here’s a man whose music is as recognizable as Lawrence Welk. A-one, two, three”—after which the JBs come in on the fourth beat and the joint starts jammin’.

25.  “Why Can’t We Live Together”/Timmy Thomas. In 2003, Steve Winwood covered “Why Can’t We Live Together” on his album About Time, and it’s fabulous.

22.  “Break Up to Make Up”/Stylistics. The highest-debuting song on the 40 this week, zooming in from #42 the week before, another ridiculously beautiful Thom Bell production.

16.  “Jambalaya”/Blue Ridge Rangers and 14. “Do It Again”/Steely Dan. In what universe does something as sonically and lyrically obtuse as “Do It Again” belong in the same quarter-hour of radio with a Louisiana hoo-rah sung in John Fogerty’s screechy twang? And it’s not just that they clash with each other. Each record sounds out of place compared to most of what surrounds them (see also #8, “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Deodato, and #2, “Dueling Banjos,” by Weissberg and Mandel). I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but still.

15. “Oh Babe What Would You Say”/Hurricane Smith. This show is from the week I turned 13. I had already noticed the interesting ways in which certain girls were becoming curvy and/or bumpy, and the physical processes that happen to 13-year-old boys were beginning to happen to me. But I was not like some of my male classmates, who were obsessed with girls at the grossest and most physical levels, and who talked about it all the time. I probably engaged in those conversations with the guys sometimes, even though I couldn’t really imagine the physical part of love happening to me just then. Like Hurricane Smith, what I wanted for the most part was simply the opportunity to make some pretty girl happy. But I kept that to myself.

10.  “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend”/Lobo and 3. “Last Song”/Edward Bear. Enough with the songs about unrequited love already.

1  “Killing Me Softly With His Song”/Roberta Flack. Casey says that Roberta Flack is the first female artist to hit #1 with back-to-back releases since Connie Francis and Brenda Lee in 1960, which is a pretty good piece of trivia.

During the previous week’s show, Casey and the AT40 staff predicted that “Killing Me Softly” would hold at #1 this week. They make the same prediction this week, and they will be right again. The song will eventually spend six weeks at #1, and it will be over three years—not until Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” at the end of 1976—before another record stays at the top as long.

Chart Action

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(Pictured: Melanie, on stage in 1971.)

When Casey Kasem introduced the American Top 40 show from January 29, 1972, by saying, “There’s not a lot of chart action this week,” I thought, “If you want to make people listen, you should probably think of something else to say.” And as I listened, that teaser seemed even stranger.

Not a lot of chart action? Six new songs debuted on the 40 in that week. Three of them would become sizable hits: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by Robert John, “Bang a Gong” by T. Rex, and “Down by the Lazy River” by the Osmonds. One sticks in history (my version of history, at least) as a notable oddball: “Floy Joy” by the Supremes, in which Jean Terrell continues to sound exactly like Diana Ross and delivers a monster earworm. One had a longer afterlife in classic rock than on Top 40, “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker, and one didn’t last much beyond its chart run, “Together Let’s Find Love” by the Fifth Dimension.

Not a lot of chart action? Several songs took enormous drops within the 40: “Once You Understand” by Think (a record we’ve written about before and that must be heard to be believed) was down 12 to #35; “Hey Big Brother” by Rare Earth was down #15 to 34. Michael Jackson’s “Got to Be There” was down 12 to #31 and “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show” by Honey Cone was down 13 to #30. The double-sided hit “Hey Girl” and “I Knew You When” by Donny Osmond was down 10 to #26. (And of the six songs that fell out of the 40, four fell clear out of the Hot 100.)

Not a lot of chart action? The single biggest mover in the countdown was an absolute rocket: “Hurting Each Other” by the Carpenters had hit the Hot 100 just two weeks before at #76; it went to #38 for the week of January 22 and was at #13 this week. And at #15 and #16 sat “Joy” by Apollo 100 and “Precious and Few” by Climax, up 20 and 18 places respectively.

But the truth of Casey’s tease became apparent as the countdown reached the Top 10. Seven of the 10 were in the same positions as the week before, including the top 5. The top 4, “American Pie,” Melanie’s “Brand New Key,” “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, and “Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards, remained locked in those positions for a third consecutive week. “Brand New Key” had done three weeks at #1 starting in late December; it would be either the #1 or #2 song on the Hot 100 for seven straight weeks; “American Pie,” with four weeks at #1 in January, would be #1 or #2 for seven weeks in a row as well.

Some other factoids:

On this show, Casey plays two versions of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” The New Seekers’ version is at #12 and the Hillside Singers’ version is at #19, both on the way down. In an AT40 Facebook group run by show historian Pete Battistini, he recently noted that when two versions of the spoken-word hit “The Americans” were in the Top 40 in early 1974, Casey eventually started playing only one of them. In March 1971, three versions of the theme from the movie Love Story spent three straight weeks in the Top 40, by Henry Mancini, Andy Williams, and Francis Lai. From looking at the original cue sheets for those shows, it’s not clear to me whether Casey played all three every week, or whether he played just a clip from one or more of them from time to time.

The 1/29/72 show features one of the all-time great AT40 train-wrecks: at #23, Casey plays Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” which is immediately followed by Charley Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” at #22. On the original show, a commercial break followed Pride; the next segment opened with #21, “Stay With Me” by Rod Stewart and Faces. If forced to defend my love for Top 40 radio and Top 40 music of the 1970s, that three-set right there might be the hill I’d die on.

No radio jock likes every song that he or she plays. We don’t usually come right out and tell you, although you can sometimes pick it up. Casey rarely betrayed it, but I suspect he disliked Sly and the Family Stone’s “Family Affair,” which was down to #18 on this week’s show. When it hit #1 the previous December, he’d announced it with a weirdly flat affect, and on this show, I thought I heard something in his voice again.

You can listen to American Top 40 in its totality, or you can listen for the little things. Either way, it’s three hours of fascinating chart action, guaranteed.

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