(Pictured: Helen Reddy, who was quite a big star by the middle of the 1970s when this photo was taken. In 1971, she scored her first hits on the American chart.)
After writing about the AT40 show from September 18, 1971, earlier this week, I looked up the full Billboard Hot 100 for that week. Holy smokes there was some interesting stuff beyond the Top 40. (For the chart, see page 66 at this link.)
41. “All Day Music”/War. This would reach only to #35 on the Hot 100 in October, but it peaked at #4 in mid-September on WLS. As a result, “All Day Music” is one of my most indelible memories of the fall of ’71. If you aren’t completely sucked into that easy groove, check your pulse to make sure you ain’t dead.
43. “Marianne”/Stephen Stills. The theme of this post is apparently going to be “songs that vastly outperformed their national number on WLS.” “Marianne” would hit #42 on the Hot 100 but #6 in Chicago.
44. “Go Down Gamblin'”/Blood Sweat and Tears. Just fallen out of the Top 40, “Go Down Gamblin’” kicks your ass and the asses of your neighbors before going out to flag down random asses on the Interstate and kick them too.
45. “Stagger Lee”/Tommy Roe. A bubblegum version of the most notorious murder ballad in the history of the blues? Sure, gimme that.
47. “Lovin’ Her Was Easier”/Kris Kristofferson. Waylon Jennings and Tompall Glaser had more famous recordings of “Lovin’ Her Was Easier,” but Kristofferson, who wrote the song, does a pretty good version.
49. “Easy Loving”/Freddie Hart. This is a record we have dug around here since always. “Easy Loving” would reach the pop Top 20 late in 1971 and win the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year award for both 1971 and 1972. You could loop the first 11 seconds of it and I’d listen to it for an hour.
51. “Crazy Love”/Helen Reddy. A version of the Van Morrison song from Moondance. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
53. “Take Me Girl, I’m Ready”/Jr. Walker and the All-Stars. Any list of great Motown choruses had better include “Take Me Girl, I’m Ready.” It sounds a lot like “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
57. “Annabella”/Hamilton Joe Frank & Reynolds. The followup to “Don’t Pull Your Love,” “Annabella” is a fine singalong ballad that made #46 on the Hot 100, although WLS charted it as high as #23 in a three-week chart run.
61. “Gimme Shelter”/Grand Funk Railroad. More volume, less subtlety. This version of “Gimme Shelter” is mostly an historical curiosity.
63. “How Can I Unlove You”/Lynn Anderson. For listeners who enjoyed her smash hit “Rose Garden” earlier in 1971, here it is again. Anderson died earlier this summer at the age of 67.
67. “Think His Name”/Johnny Rivers. Co-credited to the Guru Ram Das Ashram Singers, “Think His Name” is nevertheless a straight-up Jesus-rock number of the sort you might have been taught by an enthusiastic revival leader or church camp counselor. Needs to be 2:10, lasts 4:40.
74. “Don’t Try to Lay No Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock and Roll”/Long John Baldry. What you want more than the song itself is the story with which Baldry introduces it, about the British bobby who busted him for playing “boojie woojie music.”
81. “Charity Ball”/Fanny. Another record we have dug around here since always. Despite reaching only #40 on the Hot 100, “Charity Ball” would go to #3 at WLS in November and kick whatever asses remained unkicked by “Go Down Gamblin’.”
98. “It’s for You”/Springwell. “It’s for You” is a psychedelic freak-out version of the Lennon and McCartney song originally written for Cilla Black. Springwell was a Detroit-area band that shared bills with Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, and other Motor City acts in the early 70s.
The week of September 18, 1971, was a pretty solid week of hits from #1 to #100, all told. Well, maybe from #2 to #100.
(Pictured: Young Rod Stewart, performing with Faces in London on September 18, 1971.)
When I was a kid, I rode the school bus for over an hour every morning. If I go out and lose myself on those town roads now, I can find places that were on the route, but I have never been able to reconstruct the whole thing. Maybe that’s because I wasn’t really paying attention. That long morning bus ride is a critical part of my personal mythology, because in the fall of 1970, I started sitting under the radio speaker every morning, absorbing WLS like a sponge. By the time I got back on the bus in the fall of 1971, I knew that listening to the radio wasn’t going to be enough for me. I wanted to be on the radio.
American Top 40 recently repeated the show from September 18, 1971, and as I listened, I found myself looking out the window of the bus. That, and being fairly impressed by just a remarkable list of songs. It’s as close to all killer and no filler as any AT40 ever gets. It’s loaded with soul classics: “Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” “Mercy Mercy Me,” James Brown’s “Make It Funky,” Stevie Wonder’s “If You Really Love Me,” “Tired of Being Alone” by Al Green, plus “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” and “Spanish Harlem.” Apart from those, the radio was rockin’ in that bygone late-summer week. Some notables are on the flip.
(Pictured: Young Gordon Lightfoot, circa 1970.)
(Before we begin: our friend Tim Morrissey told one of the all-time great radio stories in the comments to this week’s post about weekend board operators. Go read it.)
Traveling years ago, I found a Canadian oldies station on the radio. Listening was a little like slipping into an alternate universe, where nearly everything is familiar but a few things are different, in significant ways. (Rather like it is for an American to visit Canada itself.) Canadian media is required to program a certain amount of Canadian content, which means that oldies stations up there are playing a few songs that sound absolutely right for the time period, but largely unfamiliar to an American listener. So, 45 years ago this week, CHWK in Chilliwack, British Columbia, would have sounded very much like an American Top 40 station of the moment, but with some interesting differences.
4. “Ten Pound Note”/Steel River. This Toronto band had been clubbing since 1965, although they didn’t go full-time or get a record deal until 1969. “Ten Pound Note” was their first single and a Top-10 hit across Canada. Although it doesn’t strike me as particularly distinctive in any way, it bubbled under in the States at #109 later in the fall of 1970, as did another single, “Southbound Train,” in the summer of 1971.
6. “Yellow River”/Christie.
Another Canadian band. (Well, shit, I guess not. See below.) If you know “Yellow River” at all, you may own Rhino’s Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day, Volume 4, where it’s the first track. It made #23 on the Hot 100, but I first heard it on the country station my parents listened to, and it wasn’t a bad fit there.
7. “Wigwam”/Bob Dylan. From Self Portrait, an album nobody could figure out in 1970. We know now, of course, that Bob Dylan takes pleasure in confounding expectations, and “Wigwam” surely did. Were it by some other random dude named Bob, it would not have seemed nearly so weird. Despite widespread befuddlement, “Wigwam” became a Top 10 hit in Portland, St. Louis, Boston, Toronto, and Chilliwack, and just missed the Billboard Top 40.
13. “Me and Bobby McGee”/Gordon Lightfoot. A folk troubadour version of the song Janis Joplin would come to own within a few months. Lightfoot’s “Me and Bobby McGee” failed to make a dent in the States; all of the citations for it at ARSA come from Canada.
18. “Down by the River”/Buddy Miles. Canadian content by the back door—this is Neil Young’s song, from Miles’ album Them Changes. I had known about the album for years, but I’d never heard it until a couple of years ago, and holy smokes it’s great, one of the best rock and soul fusions ever made. If your musical experience has been similarly lacking, you can hear
the whole thing here. almost all of it here. (“Memphis Train” is missing from the playlist.)
You may be interested to learn that Chilliwack, British Columbia, is not the hometown of the Canadian rock band Chilliwack. They came from Vancouver, which is not far from Chilliwack. It’s as if a band based in Chicago named themselves Schaumburg.
On Another Matter: Trunkworthy, a site I’d never heard of before, published a story earlier this week about the lost Motown works of David Ruffin. After leaving the Temptations (supposedly after being refused top billing, like Diana Ross got with the Supremes), Ruffin cut superlative versions of “I Want You Back” and “Rainy Night in Georgia” that ended up buried in the Motown vaults for 30 years; he also teamed with Stevie Wonder on “Make My Water Boil (Loving You Has Been So Wonderful),” a burner that should have been an enormous hit in 1971. Ruffin made music that could have healed the sick, raised the dead, and brought peace to the world, if it had only been heard. And that’s only a minor exaggeration.
(Pictured: Peter Frampton and his fabulous hair, 1976.)
Earlier this month, in “A Summer in Six Songs,” I suggested that I could probably write the same post about the same summer with six different songs. Keeping in mind that sequels rarely live up to the original, here are six more songs plucked from the WLS survey dated August 21, 1976.
“The Boys Are Back in Town”/Thin Lizzy. In the summer of 1976 I remember now, I am in the car by myself, listening to the radio by myself, on the tractor by myself. I didn’t run with a gang of friends, apart from the softball team, and I only remember a few of their names today. The all-for-one, one-for-all camaraderie of “The Boys Are Back in Town” was yet to come.
“More, More, More”/Andrea True Connection. The sweaty business Andrea True was getting up to remained theoretical to me in the summer of 1976. I knew what it was, but how I’d contrive to get into some, I couldn’t quite see. It wouldn’t be long.
“You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”/Lou Rawls. I did not grow up among the kind of people who joined the Klan, but in a place that was 100 percent white, where the vast majority had never even spoken to a black person. It led to a casual racism that came from ignorance rather than malice, and I was as ignorant as everybody else. But I loved soul music, too, and I would like to think that somewhere within me, I understood that people capable of such magnificent art were worthy of everyone’s respect.
“Baby I Love Your Way”/Peter Frampton. My wife grew up in two different houses; her parents moved away from her hometown when she was in college, so when she visited them ever after, she wasn’t “going home.” To this day, my parents are in the same house I grew up in, which has been their home since 1959. Let “Baby I Love Your Way,” and its strong images of sunsets, falling shadows, fireflies, and moonlight, stand for the place that anchors each of us, ancient or recent, wherever it might be.
“Young Hearts Run Free”/Candi Staton. A middle-class upbringing, then as now, continually pushes teenagers forward in time. Decide what you want to be. Make good grades so you can get into college. Put some money away. Be in a damn big hurry to get wherever you’re going. But Candi Staton says hold on a minute. Although she’s speaking specifically to young women, telling them not to be quick to tie themselves down with a man and a family, she’s saying to everyone that there will be time enough to accept the mantle of adulthood and the self-sacrifice that inevitably comes with it. While you’re young, be young.
“If You Know What I Mean”/Neil Diamond. “Here’s to the songs we used to sing / And here’s to the times we used to know / It’s hard to hold them in our arms again but hard to let them go.”
(Pictured: “Oh, God, there’s that idiot with the Leo Sayer record again.”)
As time passes, we learn new things, we gain new perspectives, and we sometimes find that what we once believed isn’t quite true. So we recalibrate what we once believed, in hopes of being wiser in times to come. It’s what most intelligent people do (except for some intransigent political creatures who equate virtue with believing in the same things you believed 10 or 30 or 50 or 500 years ago, even in the face of evidence to the contrary).
American Top 40 recently repeated the show from July 21, 1979, the very same week that inspired a 2011 post I wrote called “Summer of Schlock”, but I am finding it not quite so schlocky another time around.
(Pictured: young Boz, 1974.)
The ARSA database of radio station music surveys shows 21 songs by Boz Scaggs charted by at least one station between 1969 and 1988. Eight of those were charted on less than 10 surveys (four on only one). That leaves 13 singles to get airplay on more than 10, and here they are in order by number of surveys, least to most.
“Near You” (1971), 12 surveys. From the album Moments, “Near You” is the Silk Degrees sound in the test tube. (Highest chart position reached: #18, KGY, Olympia, WA, 7/9/71)
“Dinah Flo” (1972), 19 surveys. From My Time, part of which was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and produced by Boz himself (including “Dinah Flo”), and part of which was recorded at CBS in San Francisco and produced by Roy Halee, famed for his work with Simon and Garfunkel. (Highest chart position reached: #7, KISN, Vancouver, WA, 11/8/72)
“Hard Times” (1977) 28 surveys. From Down Two Then Left, the album in the unenviable position of following Silk Degrees. “Hard Times” is one of the funkiest joints Boz ever recorded. (Highest chart position reached: #11, KYNO, Fresno, CA, 11/9/77 and 11/16/77)
“Heart of Mine” (1988) 31 surveys. Infinitely forgettable, straight off the late 80s adult-contemporary template and the album Other Roads. (Highest chart position reached: #8, WKTI, Milwaukee, WI, 6/10, 6/17, and 6/24/88)
“It’s Over” (1976), 32 surveys. Everybody forgets that this was the first single from Silk Degrees. Would likely have charted higher if it had followed “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” since it’s halfway between them aesthetically. (Highest chart position reached: #4, WIXY, Cleveland, OH, 6/4/76 and KFXM, San Bernardino, CA, 6/11 and 6/18/760
“What Can I Say” (1976), 41 surveys. A question I am asking myself right now. It’s a good song overshadowed by better songs on a great album. (Highest chart position reached: #10, KYNO, Fresno, CA, 2/2/77)
“We Were Always Sweethearts” (1971), 78 surveys. Ranking songs by the number of surveys is highly unscientific. There are many, many more surveys from the 60s and 70s than from the 80s (which probably pushes “Heart of Mine” down the list some). Also, a couple of stations that played “We Were Always Sweethearts” for a long time have extensive collections of surveys at ARSA, which pushes up the number. It’s a good song, though. See Boz and his soul patch perform it live in 1971 here. (Highest chart position reached: #5, KFRC, San Francisco, 4/5/71)
“Miss Sun” (1980), 100 surveys. Four of Boz’s most-charted hits were released in 1980. Two were on his album Middle Man, and two more, “Miss Sun” and “Look What You’ve Done to Me,” showed up on the weirdly programmed compilation Hits! The production on “Miss Sun” sounds pretty dated, but the bangin’ electric piano and Lisa Dal Bello’s ultra-funky vocal line make up for it. (Highest chart position reached: #3, KSTT, Davenport, IA, 1/19/81 and KOUR, Independence, IA, 2/9/81)
“Breakdown Dead Ahead” (1980), 116 surveys. The hardest-rockin’ thing Boz ever did. If you don’t dig it, well, you know what I always say. (Highest chart position reached: #2, CHUM, Toronto, ON, 5/24/80)
“Look What You’ve Done to Me” (1980), 131 surveys. I adored “Look What You’ve Done to Me” back in the day. Today it still sounds pretty, but it’s got less emotional depth than a half-dozen other Boz ballads I could name. (Highest chart position reached: #3, WHB, Kansas City, MO, 10/21/80)
“Jojo” (1980), 146 surveys. Of all the songs Boz did at his concert last Sunday night, this was the one that surprised me most. It’s got an effective hook, but it’s even more shallow than “Look What You’ve Done to Me.” (Highest chart position reached: #1, KZZP, Mesa AZ, 7/30/80)
“Lido Shuffle” (1977), 205 surveys. I suspect this is more beloved than “Lowdown” among Boz fans today, as its position as a show-closer or encore would suggest. The synthesizer on it dates it to the middle of the 1970s, but Boz’s keyboard player replicated it on Sunday night, because of course he did. (Highest chart position reached: #1, WYSL, Buffalo, NY, 5/9/77)
“Lowdown” (1976), 264 surveys. It’s great to make a record everyone loves, but it has to get tiresome playing it every night. After 20 years of playing “Lowdown,” Boz recorded an unplugged version of “Lowdown” that was first released only in Japan. It appeared in the States in 2005 on Fade Into Light, a collection of reworked songs from Silk Degrees, Middle Man, and Some Change, an album I highly recommend. (Highest chart position reached: #1, WAVZ, New Haven, CT, 9/19 and 9/26/76; WMLP, Milton, PA, 9/20/76; WDRC, Hartford, CT, 10/1,10/8, and 10/15/76; WFAA, Dallas, TX, 10/1/76; KFMD, Dubuque, IA, 10/8/76; WGAR, Cleveland, OH, 10/13/76)
As said earlier this week in my post about his concert, Boz Scaggs is making the best music of his career right now, with practically no radio play at all. But as this list indicates, Radio Boz was mighty good Boz, too.