(Pictured L to R: singer Harry Babbitt and bandleader Kay Kyser, who were enjoying a big hit in the summer of 1948.)
Reader Ken commented recently that he doesn’t think we’re interested in the 1940s. Not exactly true. I just haven’t found a reason to write about the 40s—until now.
July 22, 1948, was a Thursday. President Harry Truman holds a news conference in which he’s asked first about the situation in Berlin. The Soviet Union has blockaded the city, but the Allies have responded with an airlift of food and other necessities. Truman is asked about the November election and the economy, among other topics. The Associated Press reports that 3,603 polio cases have been reported so far this year in the United States, over a thousand more than the same period in 1946, which was the worst polio year on record. The Chicago Tribune prints the story on the same page as a story about the discovery of a new antibiotic, aureomycin, and next to a report about 132 people departing from Chicago to a shrine to the Virgin Mary at St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec, seeking cures for various ailments. In Newfoundland, voters decide by referendum to join the Canadian confederation. It was the second vote in two months; an earlier vote failed when neither Canadian union, continued union with Britain, nor independence reached 50 percent. Although it wasn’t on the ballot, some Newfoundlanders favored becoming an American possession.
Ten big-league baseball games are played, including three doubleheaders. In one of them, the Pittsburgh Pirates take the first game from the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3, but the second is called on account of darkness, tied 1-1. In New York, the Yankees beat the Cleveland Indians 6-5; Bob Feller pitches five innings and gets the loss; he’s lifted for a pinch hitter and is replaced in the sixth by Satchel Paige. Joe DiMaggio has a home run and four RBIs for the Yankees. Among the spectators is an eight-year-old Ohio boy named Jack Nicklaus, who is attending his first major-league game. Future novelist S. E. Hinton, who will write The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, among others, is born. Author Shirley Jackson, whose short story “The Lottery” has become controversial since it was published in The New Yorker last month, tells the San Francisco Chronicle that she hoped to shock readers with “a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.”
The current edition of The Billboard reports on recent TV coverage of the Republican National Convention, suggesting that politicians will quickly need to learn how to adapt their personal styles to the new medium. On the same page, readers learn that NBC will begin sending kinescopes of its programming to affiliates not connected by coaxial cable, to make network shows more widely available. NBC advises that not all programs will be kinescoped, and there will obviously be a time lag between the original broadcast and the kinescoped repeats. The lag may be greater in some cases due to the economizing practice of “bicycling,” in which one station receives the kinescope film, broadcasts it, and then sends it on to another station for broadcast there.
The Billboard also contains its weekly Honor Roll of Hits. The #1 song on the list is last week’s #2, “Woody Woodpecker,” inspired by the popular cartoon character and available in four different versions. The Kay Kyser version is the most popular. The previous week’s #1, “You Can’t Be True, Dear,” falls to #2. It’s available in at least 13 versions. Organist Ken Griffin’s instrumental version is the most popular at the moment, although the same recording with overdubbed vocals by Jerry Wayne was a hit in the spring. Holding at #3 is “My Happiness.” Buyers can choose from 11 different versions. A duet by Jon and Sondra Steele is the most popular, just nosing out versions by the Pied Pipers (a vocal group who have performed with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and its singer, Frank Sinatra) and Ella Fitzgerald. Four days earlier, a 13-year-old named Elvis Presley recorded himself singing “My Happiness” at the Memphis Recording Service as a gift for his mother.
Perspective From the Present: I am unable to find detailed TV listings for the summer of 1948, but my guess is that early adopters (only 0.4 percent of the population had sets in 1948) saw a lot of test patterns. During the 1947-48 TV season, only NBC and DuMont offered network primetime programming, and then for only a couple of hours a night at most. Summer might have been even quieter. Come fall, however, ABC and CBS would begin primetime programming, and the TV boom would be on.
(Pictured: Bicentennial fireworks explode over the tall ships in New York Harbor, July 4, 1976.)
Over the years I have written many, many One Day in Your Life posts about days in 1976. I have resisted repeating every one of them for The 1976 Project, but I’m making an exception for this one, which first appeared in 2011.
July 4, 1976, is a Sunday. It is the American Bicentennial, a celebration that has been in the making for several years. President Gerald Ford visits Valley Forge and Philadelphia for activities marking the date. In suburban Philadelphia, the NFL Eagles open training camp. New coach Dick Vermeil, annoyed by the fireworks he can hear bursting around the city, tells an aide, “I don’t care whose birthday it is, tell them to turn it off.” After Philadelphia, Ford heads to New York for Operation Sail, the flotilla of ships from around the world sailing in New York Harbor, before returning to the White House. Presumed Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter spends the day in Westville, Georgia, dedicating a new courthouse. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service officially lists the bald eagle as an endangered species. In Uganda, Israeli forces rescue Jewish hostages held by terrorists at Entebbe Airport. The National Air and Space Museum opens at the Smithsonian. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall suffers a heart attack, leading to speculation that he might resign his seat. A power plant malfunction in Wyoming leaves about a million people in Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah without power for as much as six hours.
In the first game of a doubleheader in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia Phillies catcher Tim McCarver hits a grand-slam home run, but is called out for passing teammate Garry Maddox on the bases. The Phillies win the game anyway, but the Pirates take the nightcap. It’s one of four doubleheaders scheduled in the majors today. Cale Yarborough wins the NASCAR Firecracker 400 at Daytona.
At the Roundhouse in London, the Ramones play their first British gig, opening for the Flamin’ Groovies. The Sex Pistols play the Black Swan in Sheffield, England; opening for them is a newly formed band called the Clash. A musician named Tom Petty writes a song called “American Girl.” In future years, it will be rumored that the song is about a girl who committed suicide jumping from a dormitory tower at the University of Florida, but Petty won’t say, and researchers will find little confirming information. Elvis Presley’s tour continues in Tulsa. Elton John plays Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, and Fleetwood Mac plays Tampa. On a special edition of American Top 40 heard around the country this weekend, Casey Kasem plays each song that was Number One in America on July 4 from 1937 through 1976. Still topping the nation’s singles chart on this day: “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney and Wings, for a fifth week. “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band is right behind. The only new song in the Billboard Top 10 is Gary Wright’s “Love Is Alive.” The biggest mover in the Top 40 is “Let Her In” by John Travolta, leaping from 26 to 13. New in the Top 40 are “I Need to Be in Love” by the Carpenters, “Silver Star” by the Four Seasons, and “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy.
In Wisconsin, a 16-year-old AT40 fan doesn’t listen to the radio much on this Bicentennial day, although last night, he was up late listening. WMAQ, a country station in Chicago, counted down its top songs of all time. Number One was “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich. Today, he spends most of the day at a family picnic, although is able to watch some of the TV coverage of bicentennial events. That night, he and his family will go to their traditional spot to watch the hometown fireworks. It seems to him as though life is going on as it always had. Years from now, however, he will understand that the summer of 1976 is not just different. It’s eternal.
(Pictured: Billy Casper, 1966 U.S. Open champion, lines up a putt.)
The world turns a day at a time, and before too long, 50 years have gone by. But the week of June 18, 1966, is a week that has, in a sense, never really ended.
From top to bottom, the Billboard Top 40 contained an astounding bounty of music, and to listen to the radio in that week—in that summer, in that year—must have been remarkable, and hard to turn off. The top four songs held their positions from the previous week: “Paint It, Black,” “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?,” “I Am a Rock,” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.” “Monday Monday” had just dropped out of the Top 10. Also on its way down: Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and #23” Also in the Top 20 were hits by the Four Seasons (“Opus 17”), the Beatles (“Paperback Writer”), the Animals (“Don’t Bring Me Down”), and James Brown (“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”). The highest-debuting record of the week within the 40 was “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells. Great soul stars were everywhere: Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, Sam and Dave, the Supremes, the Temptations. The week also sparkled with indelible singles by less famous acts: “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” by the Chiffons, “Red Rubber Ball” by the Cyrkle, “Oh How Happy” by Shades of Blue, “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” by the Swingin’ Medallions, and the Standells’ “Dirty Water.”
(The bottom of that week’s Top 40 contains three songs from our One Week in the 40 list—each placed within the Top 40 for a single week. The Kinks’ “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” jumped from #41 to #36 for the week before falling back to #44 the next week. At #39 was “S.Y.S.L.J.F.M. (The Letter Song)” by Joe Tex, and at #40 sat “The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me” by country star Eddy Arnold.
Elsewhere that week:
Sunday, June 19, was Father’s Day. Ed Wynn, whose career as a comedian ran from vaudeville to television, and whose son, Keenan Wynn, also became a prominent actor, died at age 79. Many dads watched the U.S. Open golf tournament, where Billy Casper come from seven strokes behind over the last nine holes to catch Arnold Palmer and force an 18-hole playoff for the championship. On Monday the 20th, Casper won the playoff by four shots. Five doubleheaders were played in the majors on Sunday; only six games were played on Monday. The Baltimore Orioles and San Francisco Giants led their leagues as the week began.
The week before, the Supreme Court had ruled that police must read suspects their rights before questioning them. On Monday, the House of Representatives sent the Freedom of Information Act to President Johnson on a 307-0 vote. (Johnson, who would have preferred to keep much non-classified information secret, reluctantly signed the bill on the Fourth of July.) Later in the week, the Senate cast a unanimous vote for a package of new regulations for automobile safety, mandating that all new cars be equipped with seat belts, shoulder belts, rear-view mirrors, hazard lights, door locks, and other safety features beginning with the 1968 model year. The Organization of American States voted to withdraw peacekeeping troops from the Dominican Republic. Johnson had sent about 22,000 American soldiers to the Dominican Republic the year before to intervene in the country’s civil war, in hopes of stopping a Communist takeover.
The constitutional rights of the accused, the right of citizens to know what their government is doing in their name, to what extent the government has a duty to protect the health and safety of citizens, the proper way to project American power abroad—we have never really stopped discussing those issues. Much as we have never stopped listening to the songs that soundtracked them a half-century ago.
(Pictured: Prince appears at the American Music Awards in January 1986.)
April 22, 1986, is a Tuesday. The nation is abuzz this morning over last night’s syndicated TV special The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults, hosted by Geraldo Rivera, during which a chamber below the Lexington Hotel in Chicago, where Capone had once lived, was opened on live TV. It did not contain cars, bodies, or money as hoped, only dirt and old empty bottles. Thirty-five percent of TV homes in America watched. In Madison, Wisconsin, just after 4AM, 20-year-old convenience store clerk Andrew Nehmer is murdered. Twenty-seven years from now, a possible suspect will be identified, but the murder will remain unsolved. Western diplomats continue discussions about a further crackdown on Libya, one week after retaliatory American bombing raids on Tripoli and Benghazi. The Libyan government is accused of sponsoring the April 5 terrorist bombing of a Berlin disco frequented by American soldiers, in which two Americans were killed and 79 wounded. President Reagan notifies Congress that the national security emergency regarding Nicaragua, in place since the previous May, will be continued. Tonight, Reagan gives a speech at the Heritage Foundation anniversary dinner. Several states get snow with record cold.
In today’s Peanuts strip, Lucy tells Linus about their sister-brother dynamic. Future football player Marshawn Lynch and future actress Amber Heard are born. Cliff Finch, who served as governor of Mississippi from 1976 to 1980, dies of a heart attack at age 59. On TV tonight, ABC’s lineup features Who’s the Boss, Perfect Strangers, Moonlighting and Spenser: For Hire. CBS airs the new family drama Morningstar/Eveningstar, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, and The Equalizer. NBC counters with The A-Team, Hunter, and an NBC White Paper news special titled The Japan They Don’t Talk About, which shows how some Japanese manufacturing differs from the industrial powerhouse portrayed in media reports. The Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 122-104 to win their first-round NBA playoff series three games to none. After scoring 63 points in the previous game, Bulls star Michael Jordan scores 19. The Milwaukee Bucks and Houston Rockets also complete first-round sweeps.
The Los Angeles Times carries a feature story on prolific session guitarist Tommy Tedesco. The Grateful Dead play Berkeley, California, and Rush brings the Power Windows tour to Greensboro, South Carolina. Van Halen plays the Rosemont Horizon in suburban Chicago, Stevie Nicks plays Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, and Neil Diamond plays the Spectrum in Philadelphia. Van Halen’s “Why Can’t This Be Love” is new in the Billboard Top 10; Stevie’s “I Can’t Wait” holds at #16. Prince tops the Hot 100 with “Kiss”; a song he wrote under an assumed name for the Bangles, “Manic Monday,” is #2. At #99, on its way out of the Hot 100, is “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E, co-written by Prince. In Macomb, Illinois, the local Top 40 morning-show host plays all of these songs, although his favorites at the moment are “Your Love” by the Outfield and “R. O. C. K. in the U. S. A.” by John Cougar Mellencamp, both of which sound great blasting in the car on warm spring days. Or they will, if spring ever comes to western Illinois.
Perspective From the Present: Prince’s domination of pop music in 1986 was remarkable, as described in this terrific piece by Slate‘s Chris Molanphy, which prompted me to yank the Prince post I wrote yesterday afternoon and intended for today, and put this one up instead. One Day in Your Life is the kind of thing I can do well, but I am unable to write a loving retrospective on Prince’s music and what it meant to me. That should have become clear to me yesterday, when I was writing and the following sentence just popped out: “By the time I became a Top 40 DJ a few years later, Prince was on the air all the time, the same as the weather forecast.”
Not every artist, not even the greatest and most prolific ones of our times, can move every listener, or change every listener’s life. Somebody else—many somebodies, if you hit up your favorite social media channels—is going to have to tell you about Prince’s greatness and what he meant. I’m not the one to do it. I don’t intend to demean him, or downplay his significance. He is, by any standard, one of the most significant musicians American culture has ever produced. But to this listener, it doesn’t feel like a personal loss, not like Glenn Frey or Merle Haggard. I’m neither proud of that nor ashamed by it. Although I hate the phrase “it is what it is,” it is what it is.
(Pictured: Helen Reddy, circa 1976.)
(This is a repost from 2014. Perspective at the end is from 2016.)
April 9, 1976, is a Friday. Frisch’s Big Boy Restaurants in the greater Cincinnati area invite you in for fish fillets tonight with fries, salad, and a roll for $1.60. It’s the second day of the major-league baseball season, but only two games were played yesterday; 16 teams open their seasons today, including the Chicago Cubs, who lose to the Cardinals 5-0 in St. Louis. On a trip to Texas, President Ford visits the Alamo in San Antonio during the morning and then goes to Dallas. He throws out the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ season opener, staying only for the first inning. In the first pro sports event at the new Seattle Kingdome, Pele scores two goals as the New York Cosmos defeat the Seattle Sounders in pro soccer, 2-1. Folksinger Phil Ochs, most famous for “I Ain’t Marching Anymore,” hangs himself; he was 35. A strong earthquake kills eight people in Ecuador. In Nagoya, Japan, a 13-year-old boy takes a series of photos that seem to show a UFO. In Syracuse, New York, the Onondaga County Public Library unveils its new logo. In Madison, Wisconsin, the first edition of a new weekly newspaper, Isthmus, is laid out in the living room of one of its co-founders.
New movies in theaters include All the President’s Men starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford and Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot. On daytime TV, Foster Brooks ends a week co-hosting The Mike Douglas Show; guests today include Gloria Swanson, Frankie Valli, and Geraldo Rivera. The Merv Griffin Show welcomes Kaye Ballard, Jack Jones, comedian Charlie Callas and impressionist Marilyn Michaels. In prime time, the animated special The First Easter Rabbit, featuring the voices of Burl Ives and Robert Morse, airs on NBC, and so does The Rockford Files. CBS airs an episode of Sara, starring Brenda Vaccaro as a schoolteacher in an 1870 Colorado town. She will be nominated for an Emmy, but the show will end after 13 episodes.
Rush plays the Indianapolis Coliseum with special guests Ted Nugent and the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver. On separate bills, Genesis and Donovan play New York City. The Electric Light Orchestra and Journey play Huntsville, Alabama. Bruce Springsteen plays Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.
The Midnight Special airs on NBC following Johnny Carson. Host Helen Reddy welcomes Fleetwood Mac, who perform a blazing version of their new hit “Rhiannon.” Also on the show, Gary Wright, Barry Manilow, Queen, and Hamilton Joe Frank & Reynolds, who perform “Fallin’ in Love” with Reddy and their recent hit “Winners and Losers,” and then come back for a second spot doing “Every Day Without You.”
Perspective From the Present: I was equipment manager of the high school baseball team, and we had a scrimmage on that Friday after school. That night, a couple of friends and I went to the local drive-in theater for what I recall as some terrible movies (although I don’t remember what they were), killing time until midnight. The Key Club at my high school was putting on a marathon basketball game that weekend, in which teams signed up to play for an hour at a time from Friday afternoon through Sunday night. I was on a team scheduled to play at midnight and again at 5AM, so the night of April 9 and 10, 1976, marked the first time I ever stayed up all night. Spring break (known to us then as Easter vacation) started on Monday the 12th. On the Tuesday the 13th, I passed my behind-the-wheel test and got my driver’s license; on Wednesday the 14th, the local radio station said they’d hire me for the summer—although they didn’t follow through on that.
An eventful few days, for sure. And now 40 years behind us.
(Pictured: Linda Ronstadt. As if you needed me to tell you.)
November 27, 1977, was a Sunday. Voters in the African country of Upper Volta approve a new constitution. In the Upper Midwest, heavy snow falls. In Green Bay, weather forecasters predict six inches will fall during the Packers’ game against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings win 13-6. Elsewhere in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons beat Tampa Bay 17-0; it’s the 25th straight loss for the Buccaneers, who have yet to win a regular-season game since joining the NFL the previous season. Canada’s football championship, the Grey Cup game, is played in Montreal; after a Friday snowstorm, groundskeepers put salt on the Olympic Stadium turf to melt it, but plunging temperatures on the weekend turned the field to a sheet of ice. Despite the conditions, Montreal defeats Edmonton 41-6. Future NFL player Adam Archuleta is born. In the Sunday Peanuts strip, Charlie Brown asks Lucy for a great truth.
On TV tonight, CBS presents the theatrical movie Three Days of the Condor. NBC has a musical adaptation of The Hobbit, A Doonesbury Special, and highlights of the Miss World pageant. A Doonesbury Special will be nominated for an Academy Award and win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival. ABC has The Six Million Dollar Man and a special titled Oscar Presents the War Movies and John Wayne. In England, TV viewers are still talking about what happened the night before, when the evening newscast on a regional channel was interrupted by a message from “Vrillon, a representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command,” which advises humanity of “the course you must take to avoid the disaster which threatens your world, and the beings on our worlds around you.” The source of the broadcast will never be identified, although it will be reported that Ashtar’s origins were in an American UFO cult that first appeared during the 1940s.
The top movie at the box office is Star Wars, which has been the weekly champ since late June. Rush continues its A Farewell to Kings tour in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Jerry Garcia Band plays the Palladium in New York City. The Talking Heads play Nashville and KISS plays Kansas City. The Spinners and Dorothy Moore wrap up a weeklong stand at Mill Run Theater in suburban Chicago. At WLS, “Boogie Nights” by Heatwave takes over the #1 spot from Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” which had held the top spot for seven weeks and is now #2. Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” is at #3. “Come Sail Away” by Styx makes a strong move from #11 to #4; also making a big leap is the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” moving from #21 to #10. Other big movers include Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou” and “Isn’t It Time” by the Babys. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is the #1 album in Chicago for the 25th week.
Perspective From the Present: This day was the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. My family alternated Thanksgivings between sets of grandparents. We’d have dinner with one on Thanksgiving Day and the other on Sunday, and then switch it up the next year. I don’t remember where we went in 1977. Dinner with my mother’s family was a big, noisy event—there were 17 of us if all the cousins showed up, and by 1977 some of the cousins were bringing significant others. Dinner with my father’s family was much quieter; he was an only child, so there was just the five of us plus Grandpa and Grandma. I don’t remember preferring one dinner or the other back then.
Yesterday, my grandparents long gone and my own cousins scattered to the winds, we were 12 around the table, still the five of us plus significant others and kids, and the big wheel rolled on.