We have passed several musical milestones from 1973 already this year, including the releases of Dark Side of the Moon and Houses of the Holy. Let other bloggers write about those. I will stick to subjects I am uniquely qualified to explore: Forty-five years ago this week, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn Featuring Tony Orlando hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Dawn had made a big splash with “Candida,” which hit #3 in the fall of 1970, and “Knock Three Times,” which went to #1 in January 1971. Their next three singles peaked at #25, #33, and #39 nationally, and the three after that didn’t crack the Top 40 at all. So when “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” landed at radio stations in the winter of 1973, there was no reason to think that it was going to be a monster, but a monster it turned out to be.
The song first shows up at ARSA on a survey from Detroit Top 40 giant CKLW on January 30, 1973. It cracked the Hot 100 on February 17 and picked up radio station adds in bunches throughout the last half of February. On March 17, it crashed into the Top 40, going from #48 to #29 the same week that it scored its first #1, at WCOL in Columbus, Ohio. Its climb up the Hot 100 was steady, going 29-19-13 and cracking the Top 10 at #6 on April 7. It would go to #3 the next week and #1 on April 21, 1973, taking out “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence. By then, it had hit #1 in literally dozens of cities across North America. It would top the Hot 100 for four weeks, and during that time it would rack up more local #1s. Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” dethroned it on May 19, but it wouldn’t start losing chart momentum until the end of June. WQAM in Miami actually charted it until February 1974.
Why was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” such a massive hit? For one thing, people love a story well told, and it was surely that. Songwriters L. Russell Brown and Irwin Levine, who wrote several of Dawn’s most famous songs, took a Civil War legend about a prisoner of war returning home and transposed it to the story of a guy getting out of jail. (It might have resonated just as strongly had they kept the POW angle, given the return of those imprisoned in Vietnam during early 1973.) Maybe it offered an escape from the news of the day: the Watergate scandal exploded into public consciousness during the record’s run up the chart. But it also was an irresistably bouncy record at a time of year when that kind of thing sounds great, and Tony Orlando delivers an ingratiating performance. It was a polarizing record, however—some people simply ate it up, while others found it too cheesy to bear and/or grew sick to death of its endless repetition on the radio. But it ended up the #1 song of the year in at least 10 cities, and on Billboard‘s year-end singles chart as well.
After “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” Dawn doubled down on novelties (most famously “Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” and “Who’s in the Strawberry Patch With Sally” from the album Dawn’s New Ragtime Follies). The group got a four-episode CBS variety show in the summer of ’74 and a regular slot that December. Their show was reasonably successful for a couple of seasons before going off in late 1976. Although they’d hit #1 one more time, with a well-done cover of “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” in the spring of 1975, the hits slowed to a trickle during the TV years; Dawn’s last Hot 100 hit came early in 1977.
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon” remained part of American culture after its chart run, gaining new resonance during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and 1980, and again during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. (The Gulf War inspired a new Dawn recording called “With Every Yellow Ribbon,” which had precious little to do with its semi-namesake.) But today, the significance of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” is mostly as an artifact of the weird 1970s, when it scratched some sort of itch we couldn’t have described at the time.
It was an itch I didn’t suffer, by the way; although “Candida” and “Knock Three Times” were important records in my life and I was still buying 45s in the spring of 1973, I never considered buying “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” It seemed to be on the radio every five minutes anyhow, and that was enough for me.
(Pictured: Shaun Cassidy meets the people in the summer of 1977.)
Now, on with the annotated countdown of the Top 56 songs of 1977, as compiled by WIND in Chicago.
24. “Lonely Boy”/Andrew Gold. A lot of baby boomers blame their parents for stuff their parents don’t even—or can’t even—know they did. “Lonely Boy” may be the single greatest artifact of this runaway narcissism.
23. “Theme from Rocky”/Bill Conti. I once called the vocal line on this record “stiff and white and weird.” Could probably apply to the whole thing.
22. “That’s Rock and Roll”/Shaun Cassidy. One Saturday on my radio station’s Facebook page, I posted a picture of Shaun Cassidy nipped from an old local radio survey the week he played a concert here in 1977, and asked the question, “Were any of you there?” It became one of the most popular posts the station’s ever done.
21. “Nobody Does It Better”/Carly Simon. Has gone further down the memory hole than almost every song on this survey. You just don’t hear it anywhere anymore.
20. “Fly Like An Eagle”/Steve Miller Band. Discuss: “Fly Like an Eagle” is a better record with the “Space Intro” included, but “Jet Airliner” is better without its electronic intro, “Threshold.”
19. “Theme From A Star Is Born”/Barbra Streisand. Like lovely snowflakes falling.
18. “Do You Wanna Make Love”/Peter McCann. McCann’s career was pretty much made by one song—“Right Time of the Night” by Jennifer Warnes, a songwriting credit that got McCann his own record deal, which resulted in a single that made WIND’s best-of-77 where the superior “Right Time” didn’t.
17. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA. This song was #1 on the Hot 100 for only a week, but 100 years from now, it’s likely to be the only song from 1977 anybody remembers.
16. “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer. The high-pitched emoting of “When I Need You” is the best thing Leo Sayer ever did by many miles, tiptoeing right up to the edge of too much without going over. But maybe just for me.
15. “Weekend in New England”/Barry Manilow. [listens and remembers something] [long pause] Mmmmm . . . . I’m sorry, you were saying?
14. “Higher and Higher”/Rita Coolidge. It was a Chicago radio thing for DJs to occasionally talk after playing a jingle. I maintain that a DJ could justifiably talk after Rita’s cold opening on this record, although I’ve never done it myself.
13. “Best of My Love”/Emotions. Sounds better to me now than it did then.
12. “Southern Nights”/Glen Campbell. As I hoped for David Bowie after his death, I hope Glen Campbell had some inkling, while he was alive, of just how beloved he was.
11. “Da Doo Ron Ron”/Shaun Cassidy. In one of the very first posts at this blog back in 2004, I told the world how much I like this record, and I still do.
10. “Rich Girl”/Hall and Oates. What I am pretty sure is the most-commented-upon post in the history of this blog, back in 2012, was inspired in part by the reluctance of certain radio stations to air the word “bitch” in “Rich Girl.”
9./8. “Sir Duke”/Stevie Wonder and “The Things We Do for Love”/10cc. What has made these records enjoyable for 40 years is their 180-proof, no-apologies joyfulness.
7. “Torn Between Two Lovers”/Mary Macgregor. Even 40 years ago, there was a sense of “This is one of the top songs in the country? This? Really?”
6. “Star Wars Theme-Cantina Band”/Meco. This is the only part of the Star Wars universe I have ever been interested in.
5. “Blinded by the Light”/Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. This song frequently reminds me of a frozen, pre-dawn Saturday morning bus ride to a high-school wrestling tournament I didn’t want to attend, knowing it would be 18 hours before we got home.
4. “Hot Line”/Sylvers. A monster in Chicago. I don’t know where WIND ranked it during its chart run, but WLS had it at #1 for two weeks in February.
3. “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”/Andy Gibb. Not just four weeks at #1 and four months in the Top 10, but nine straight weeks in the top three of the Hot 100.
2. “Undercover Angel”/Alan O’Day. O’Day wrote three of the 1970s’ biggest love-it-or-hate-it hits: “Undercover Angel,” the Righteous Brothers’ “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby,” as well as Cher’s fabulous “Train of Thought.”
1. “You Light Up My Life”/Debby Boone. Inevitable.
I wrote this post last December, intending to put it up around New Year’s, but I never did. I can’t remember why now, as it doesn’t seem to suck any more than the usual run of stuff around here. Hope you enjoyed it.
(Pictured: David Soul in Starsky and Hutch, 1977.)
At the end of 2017, I wrote a two-part post recapping the Top 56 songs of 1977 from WIND in Chicago, and then, for some reason, decided not to run it. I looked at it again the other day and I couldn’t remember why I decided not to run it, so I’m gonna run it now.
56. “You’re My World”/Helen Reddy. Does a remarkable job of conjuring up that summer, but maybe just for me.
55. “We’re All Alone”/Rita Coolidge. I prefer this to the Boz Scaggs original. It just seems to work better when sung by a woman, but maybe just for me.
54. “Barracuda”/Heart. Your AM radio was rockin’ hard all summer long, and not only because of this.
53. “On and On”/Stephen Bishop. “Poor old Jimmy sits alone in the moonlight / Saw his woman kiss another man.” This sort of happened to your poor old correspondent in 1977, but the details I take to the grave.
52. “Just Remember I Love You”/Firefall. You can say it, but that won’t necessarily make it true.
51./50. “You and Me”/Alice Cooper and “Knowing Me, Knowing You”/ABBA. Snapshots from the comfortable middle of the relationship, and the bitter end.
49. “This Song”/George Harrison. Will say again: Thirty-Three and 1/3 is in my Top 5 albums of all time. Maybe Top 3.
48. “You Don’t Have to Be a Star”/Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. A perfect production by Don Davis, a titan of the Detroit music scene. He should be a lot better known than he is. Look him up.
47. “Couldn’t Get It Right”/Climax Blues Band. I read not long ago that this song was the last thing recorded for the album Gold Plated because the record company didn’t hear a hit single, so the band set out to write one.
46. “Come Sail Away”/Styx. If this hadn’t straddled the 1977 and 1978 chart years, it would have been the runaway #1 song of the year in Chicago in either one year or the other. It was in heavy rotations for months.
45. “She Did It”/Eric Carmen. Honk if you remember this record at all. Hello?
44. “Ariel”/Dean Friedman. The way Friedman bends the line “we made love to bombs bursting in air” into the word “Ariel” pleases me greatly, still.
43. “Dreams”/Fleetwood Mac. There has never been anything else that sounds like this.
42. “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”/Crystal Gayle. I said all I could think of about this song back in September.
41. “Handy Man”/James Taylor. He fixes broken hearts, but he doesn’t sound all that happy about it.
40. “Lido Shuffle”/Boz Scaggs. Whenever Boz plays it live (and I’ve heard it four times), it leaves a smoking hole where the theater used to be.
39. “Feels Like the First Time”/Foreigner. Sounds a bit like it was focus-grouped into existence, designed to appeal to AM kids and their older FM siblings, but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
38. “Don’t Leave Me This Way”/Thelma Houston. Somebody I was reading recently picked this as their #1 song of 1977, and you could do worse.
37. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart. If I were picking my personal #1 song of 1977, this could be it, and I’d have trouble doing better.
36. “Swayin’ to the Music”/Johnny Rivers. You wouldn’t mind living the scenario in this song, and neither would I.
35. “I’m in You”/Peter Frampton. Poor guy, having to follow Frampton Comes Alive.
34. “I Feel Love”/Donna Summer. I did not care much for Donna Summer when her hits were on the radio. But I’m older now, and wiser.
33. “Looks Like We Made It”/Barry Manilow. Be careful with broad romantic pronouncements, my dude. Sometimes they are premature.
32. “I’m Your Boogie Man”/KC and the Sunshine Band. I have a vinyl KC greatest-hits album on which this is segued into “Keep It Comin’ Love,” and it is awesome.
31. “Stand Tall”/Burton Cummings. [listens and remembers something] [long pause] Mmmmm . . . . I’m sorry, you were saying?
30. “Hotel California”/Eagles. Will say again: if you’re tired of this song and never want to hear it again, I understand. But I’m not there yet.
29./28. “After the Lovin'”/Engelbert Humperdinck and “You Made Me Believe in Magic”/Bay City Rollers. After, and also during, and also before if you want me to be honest about it.
27. “New Kid in Town”/Eagles. I said all I could think of about this song in February of ’17.
26. “Keep it Comin’ Love”/KC and the Sunshine Band. See #32.
25. “Don’t Give Up on Us”/David Soul. A program director once criticized me for calling this record “sappy” on the air. I can see his point, but I’m pretty sure even people who like it think it’s sappy.
We’ll cover the top 24 in a later installment, whenever I get around to it.
(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.
(Pictured: the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with John McLaughlin on guitar, second from left, Billy Cobham on drums and Jan Hammer on keyboards.)
If you are sick and tired of my obsession with 1976, this post isn’t going to help any. In my defense, it comes from a different angle than the usual—it’s the survey from KCR, the college station at San Diego State University, dated March 1, 1976. It’s got a handful of the major hits of the moment: Frampton Comes Alive, A Night at the Opera, Bad Company’s Run With the Pack, David Bowie’s Station to Station, and Desire by Bob Dylan. Here are other interesting entries from a list that’s divided between “daytime” and “nighttime,” although there’s plenty of overlap between ’em:
1. (daytime)/8. (nighttime) How Dare You/10cc. This album comes between The Original Soundtrack (with “I’m Not in Love”) and Deceptive Bends (with “The Things We Do For Love”) without a big single, although “I’m Mandy Fly Me” and “Art for Art’s Sake” made the lower reaches of the Hot 100. The band’s sense of humor undercut any pretensions they had to being a serious prog rock band—not that there’s anything wrong with that.
5. (nighttime) Maxophone/Maxophone. Chances are good that if you are able to name one Italian prog rock band, it’s PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi). Now you can name two. Maxophone was a six-piece band made up of avant-garde classical musicians and rockers. They released their debut album in both Italian and English; the Italian version has been re-released in the CD era. You can listen to the whole dang thing here.
6. (daytime)/9. (nighttime) Paris/Paris. This is how Bob Welch spent his time between leaving Fleetwood Mac and launching his solo career, in a power trio with former Jethro Tull bassist Glenn
Cornish Cornick and Nazz drummer Thom Mooney. Welch made two albums under the Paris name (the second with a different drummer, Hunt Sales, son of Soupy and future collaborator with David Bowie in Tin Machine), but the band would be defunct by the end of ’76.
6. (nighttime)/Inner Worlds/Mahavishnu Orchestra. No self-respecting album-rock radio station of the late 1970s would fail to play a bit of jazz fusion, although Allmusic.com notes in its biography of the Mahavishnu Orchestra that the band was considered a rock band in its prime. Inner Worlds was the last album John McLaughlin would make under the Mahavishnu Orchestra name until 1984. Stoners of 1976 would probably have dug “Miles Out,” on which McLaughlin creates various otherworldly noises with his guitar.
7. (nighttime) When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease/Roy Harper. You have heard Roy Harper sing, even if you don’t realize it—that’s him on Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar.” He’s also the inspiration for Led Zeppelin’s “Hats Off to Harper,” and he is in general a lot better known and more influential in the UK than over here. When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease (one of the great album titles of the 1970s) was released in the UK, it was known as HQ. The somber, stately title song is here.
15. (nighttime) King Brilliant/Howard Werth and the Moonbeams. During the early 70s, Werth had been in the British band Audience; according to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), the surviving Doors asked him if he’d be interested in replacing Jim Morrison. (Spoiler: he didn’t.) King Brilliant was produced by Elton John’s longtime producer Gus Dudgeon, and it’s not hard to imagine its lead single, “Midnight Flyer,” as an Elton hit.
It seems pretty clear that like many college radio stations then and now, KCR was Very Serious About the Music, and in a way you can only be when you’re of college age.
One Other Thing: Radio geeks are mourning the demise of the Loop, the Chicago album-rock station purchased by a non-commercial group that will put a syndicated Christian format on it, perhaps by the time you read this. The Loop was owned by a group that was in over its head and thereby ripe for the kind of picking it got. But in its heyday, it was a station that mattered to people. There aren’t too many stations like that; in every market in the country, half the stations could go dark and in 48 hours, it would be like they never existed. But the Loop was a tastemaker, as Professor O’Kelly put it. It was a special place to work, as Rick Kaempfer noted. And in Chicago, it will be missed.
(The main part of this post was rebooted from one that first appeared in March 2013.)
(Pictured: two men dig out a Volkswagen Rabbit after the northeastern blizzard of 1978.)
It’s been a while since we looked at a vintage edition of Billboard magazine, so here’s a peek inside the issue dated February 17, 1978.
A blizzard that struck the Northeast during the first week in February had significant impacts. Retailers, wholesalers and pressing plants closed, distributors couldn’t reach customers, and a warehouse roof collapsed at Pickwick International in Somerset, Massachusetts. An Emerson Lake and Palmer show scheduled for Princeton, New Jersey, was cancelled. The storm was at its worst on a Monday, a day when many discos and theaters are closed, but operators were surprised by the sizes of the crowds that showed up on Tuesday. Club operators say that when a blizzard hits, partygoers show up earlier, stay later, and drink more. Stranded travelers in New York City actually provided a boost for retailers in Manhattan.
Frisking of audience members at concerts is on the way out, after court rulings that such warrantless searches are illegal. Venues have responded by posting signs warning that entering with “dangerous” items is prohibited, and concertgoers can be asked to voluntarily open bags or briefcases. In an item that’s plausibly related, officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul are concerned about a recent fad in which concertgoers set off cherry bombs and Roman candles inside arenas.
There’s a profile of Co-op Records, a Midwestern chain that “thrives selling progressive rock,” carrying very little country music and no classical or jazz. The article notes that the ordering process for the chain’s 25 locations is paperless—stores call the main office in Peoria, Illinois, and read their orders into a recording machine; the tapes are played back by order-pickers in the main warehouse. (For those of us who lived in Iowa and Illinois back in the day, Co-op is a beloved name, and a handful of Co-op stores still exist in 2018.)
Gary Owens also gets a profile. He’s been at KMPC in Los Angeles for 16 years, and he says a key to his success is staying on top of change. Among the Owens factoids: at WNOE in New Orleans, back in 1957, Owens came out with the first adult coloring book, to be used as a giveaway; a KMPC giveaway item was a two-piece Gary Owens jigsaw puzzle that looked wrong when it was assembled. Owens also says he had the first pet rock, a decade before it became a fad, and that he was the first DJ in the country to play Randy Newman’s current hit “Short People.”
A list of recent top-grossing concerts is led by Earth Wind and Fire, who played the Louisiana Superdome on February 3 with Deniece Williams and the Pockets, and drew over 18,000 fans at between $8.50 and $10 a ticket. In second place is Emerson Lake and Palmer, whose Boston Garden show on February 4 drew 15,500, with tickets priced from $7.50 to $10. Other big concert bills include Ted Nugent with Golden Earring and Sammy Hagar, Nazareth with Wet Willie, Rush with Pat Travers, and Gary Wright with Starcastle and Clover. Foreigner is on the road as well, with Eddie Money opening some shows and LeBlanc and Carr opening others.
“What a Wonderful World” by Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon, and James Taylor is #1 on the Easy Listening chart again this week, but the hottest mover by far is “Can’t Smile Without You” by Barry Manilow, which moves to #4 from #22. (Manilow will star in a network TV special on February 24; his guest will be Ray Charles. Also appearing: Manilow’s mother, in a comedy sketch. She’ll try to convince a cab driver that her son is famous.) The #1 song on the country chart is “Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You” by Margo Smith. “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson makes a strong move from #8 to #3. The new #1 on the Hot Soul Singles chart is “Too Hot ta Trot” by the Commodores. Saturday Night Fever remains #1 on the Soul LPs chart and the list of Top LPs and Tape. Billy Joel’s The Stranger moves from #5 to #2 on the latter, and News of the World by Queen is #3. On the Hot 100, “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees is #1.
Forty years ago this week, I was a senior in high school, counting the days until graduation in May. I showed signs of senior-itis because it was fashionable. Inside, however, I was far less excited to see the time slip away. But that’s a story to be told later on.