(Pictured: Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968.)
(Note to patrons: there’s a new, never-before-seen post at One Day in Your Life today for your holiday weekend delectation.)
Let’s do a thing we haven’t done for a while: look at the #40 hit from various weeks, covering Memorial Days and other early days of summer, to see what we can see, and hear what we can hear.
5/25/91: “You’re in Love”/Wilson Phillips (chart peak: #1, 4/20/91). Wilson Phillips had 3 #1 songs (this one, “Hold On,” and “Release Me”) plus a #4 (“Impulsive”) between April 1990 and April 1991. Yet I never got the feeling that they were all that serious about being rock stars, despite the fact that with a little effort they probably could kept it up for years.
5/22/82: “I Don’t Know Where to Start”/Eddie Rabbitt (chart peak: #35, 6/12/82; #2 country). Eddie Rabbitt kept it country despite having been born in Brooklyn and raised in East Orange, New Jersey. Before he was famous, he wrote “Kentucky Rain,” recorded by Elvis. He was a dominant star for a long time, with 34 straight singles in the country Top 10 between 1976 and 1990 and six Top 20 pop hits between 1979 and 1982, including the #1 pop hit “I Love a Rainy Night.” (Which is one of the worst #1 songs of all time, but still.)
5/24/78: “Stay”/Rufus featuring Chaka Khan (chart peak: #38, 6/10/78). On the Tuesday after Memorial Day in 1978, I graduated from high school, but I don’t think I want to talk about that this year.
5/29/77: “My Heart Belongs to Me”/Barbra Streisand (chart peak: #4, 7/30/77). This is, against all odds, a song that takes me vividly back to the summer of 1977, but I don’t think I want to talk about that, either.
5/29/76: “Still Crazy After All These Years”/Paul Simon (chart peak on this date). “Now I sit by my window and I watch the cars / I fear I’ll do some damage one fine day.” Nope, not talking.
5/24/75: “Misty”/Ray Stevens (chart peak: #14, 7/12/75; #3 country). Speaking of oddities: sped up and given a country twang, this version of one of the great torch songs of the piano-bar era is the second-highest-charting version of “Misty,” behind only the one by Johnny Mathis. It’s better than it has any right to be, although your mileage may vary.
5/27/72: “Rocket Man”/Elton John (chart peak: #6, 7/15/72). My adoration of Elton’s 1975 Captain Fantastic album is well known. What I’ve said less about is how much I love Honky Chateau. And “Rocket Man,” the first thing of Elton’s I ever bought, might be my single favorite Elton song.
5/29/71: “Lowdown”/Chicago (chart peak: #35, 6/12/71). This record did not chart at either WLS or WCFL in the band’s namesake town, although it was a Top-10 hit in Houston, San Diego, Minneapolis, Albany, Providence, and St. Charles, Missouri.
5/23/70: “Sugar Sugar”-“Cole, Cooke, and Redding”/Wilson Pickett (chart peak: #25, 7/4/70). Get yourself some real damn double-A-side soul music right here. “Sugar Sugar” is the song made famous by the Archies; “Cole, Cooke, and Redding” pays tribute to the soul music masters by using “Abraham, Martin, and John” as a template.
5/24/69: “The Windmills of Your Mind”/Dusty Springfield (chart peak: #31, 6/14/69). For a time around the turn of the 70s, the lines “Like a circle in a spiral / Like a wheel within a wheel” were widely familiar, and “The Windmills of Your Mind” threatened to become a standard. It won the Oscar for Best Original Song (from The Thomas Crown Affair) when the awards were announced in April of ’69; Atlantic Records rush-released Dusty’s version as the third single from Dusty in Memphis.
5/27/67: “Little Bit O’ Soul”/Music Explosion (chart peak: #2, 7/8/67). Hitting #40 from #73 the week before, “Little Bit O’ Soul” was just one of several memorable hits from the summer of ’67 that were blasting up the chart during Memorial Day week. “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” by Spanky and Our Gang was at #49 from #98, and “Windy” by the Association was at #52 in its first week on. Also on their way up from outside the 40: Marvin and Tammi’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” by Frankie Valli, and “San Francisco” by Scott McKenzie, the quintessential Summer of Love anthem, new at #98, although it would zoom to #55 the next week.
As the summer of 2017 begins, I hope that your Memorial Day weekend is relaxed and relaxing, with all the trouble in the world held at bay at least until Tuesday.
(Pictured: the man of the hour, turbanized.)
I have said before how much I like American Top 40 shows from 1972. Casey and his staff have figured out how they want the show to sound, and his delivery is easy and friendly, just a guy talking to the people and playing some tunes, as on the show from April 22, 1972.
—Introducing “Do Your Thing” at #39, Casey calls Isaac Hayes “the man of the hour.” The show would have aired less than two weeks after Hayes appeared on the Oscars, singing his award-winning “Theme From Shaft” in a shirt made of chain mail, a performance that left the whole country abuzz.
—Casey back-announces “The Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr., as “the happiest song in the countdown,” and misspeaks when he says it’s at #38, up five spots. It’s actually up five from #38 the week before. Since AT40 shows were still being recorded live on tape at this time, I’m not surprised that they left in such a minor fluff. Better that than having to re-record an entire segment of the show in real time.
—I don’t know if, or how often, the most egregiously out-of-time extras included in the original broadcasts are snipped from the modern-day repeats. On this show, listeners in 2017 are treated to “Wheel of Fortune” by Kay Starr—a perfectly fine record by the standards of 1952 (“the #1 hit of 20 years ago,” as Casey calls it), but one that seems egregiously out of time in 1972 as well, at least until the countdown gets to #25 and the resolutely old-fashioned “Every Day of My Life” by Bobby Vinton.
—“Jump Into the Fire” by Nilsson is at #28, up two spots for the week. I have always pronounced the man’s name to rhyme with “Wilson,” which is how the WLS DJs pronounced it back in the day. In intervening years, I have heard it pronounced as if it were spelled “Nielsen.” Casey does it both ways, once introducing the record and once back-announcing it.
—The highest-debuting song of the week is “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens up at #27, featuring (not mentioned by Casey) Rick Wakeman, then of Yes, on piano. According to Wikipedia (so who the hell knows), Wakeman helped develop the distinctive piano opening and the instrumental break in the middle but didn’t receive a credit, or royalties beyond the 10 British pounds he was paid for the session.
—The two biggest movers within the 40 this week are “Oh Girl” by the Chi-Lites, up 15 spots to #20, and “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers, up 14 spots to #23. Both will reach #1, “Oh Girl” on May 27 and “I’ll Take You There” on June 3, and both are on the short list of things in this life that are perfect. Also on that list: “Suavecito” by Malo, up five spots this week to #21.
—At three different points in the last half of the show, Casey does brief announcements encouraging young people to register and vote. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment lowering the voting age to 18 had been ratified the previous July, but with the presidential primary campaign underway, such a reminder was especially timely.
—Casey was famous for what AT40 staffers called the “tease and hook,” which would keep listeners from tuning away during a commercial break. This show contains a near-perfect example involving a star who lost a trunk full of shoes while being mobbed after a show. Casey doesn’t reveal the star’s identity until the very end, and I found myself caught up in the story even though it turned out to be fairly trivial. (The shoes belonged to Al Green.)
—The top of this chart is pretty solid: “Doctor My Eyes” (#10), “Heart of Gold” (#8), and “A Horse With No Name” (#4) haven’t been off the radio in 45 years, and there’s soul music in several different flavors: Aretha Franklin’s “Day Dreaming” (#7), the Stylistics’ “Betcha By Golly Wow” (#6), the Dramatics’ “In the Rain” (#5), “I Gotcha” by Joe Tex (#3), and “Rockin’ Robin” (#2).
—Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is in its second of six straight weeks at #1. Although Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” will spend six non-consecutive weeks at the top later in 1972, no song will have a longer uninterrupted run until Rod Stewart keeps “Tonight’s the Night” around for eight weeks at the end of 1976. Even though the 45 edit of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is only about a minute shorter than the original, it tightens the record considerably. What’s left is not as much romantic as it is erotic. Not that I could tell in 1972, but still.
(Edited since first posted to fix some stuff, because this is not a very good blog, really.)
(Pictured: Elton John listens at home, 1974.)
I said it in the very first post at this blog: the record charts, from about 1970 through about 1986, are the calendar of my life: name a date and I’ll give you a song; name a song and I’ll give you a date. I used to be able to tell you the #1 song on any given date of the 1970s, but some pages of the calendar are getting a little dim.
I was listening to the American Top 40 show from April 13, 1974. That’s the season in which I discovered AT40 as a listener, picking it out of the static on WROK from Rockford, Illinois. Several of my favorite songs that spring were ones I heard only on AT40, as none of my favorite stations were playing them. I had never heard anything like “The Payback” by James Brown, and I dug it. Neither WCFL or WLS in Chicago charted Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” WLS didn’t chart the Staple Singers’ “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend” either; WCFL did, but they never played it as much as I wanted to hear it. Other obscure songs from that show still stick in my mind after all this time, including Lamont Dozier’s “Tryin’ to Hold on to My Woman” and the fabulous country soul of “Tell Me a Lie” by Sami Jo, another song I heard nowhere else.
As I listen, I’m on parallel tracks—geeky 14-year-old in the spring of eighth grade, making his own handwritten list of the hits, one song at a time, and geeky 57-year-old in the autumn of his life, remembering those songs and others he expects to hear. But this is where the calendar page gets dim.
As the show goes on, I start thinking, “Where’s ‘Band on the Run’?” The album hit #1 during the very April week of this AT40 show, and I keep expecting to hear the title song. When Casey gets to #14 and plays “Jet,” I realize that I must have misremembered when “Band on the Run” hit the radio. It wouldn’t reach the Hot 100 until the week of April 20, at #68. It would hit #41 the next week, blast onto AT40 at #22 during the week of May 4, and go 14-7-5-2 and finally to #1 on June 8, 1974.
(Digression: I would like to be able to tell you when “Band on the Run” first appears at ARSA, the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, but a recent update to the site has removed that functionality, in which you could click on a title and see all the listings for that title, an invaluable research aid. I have asked the site proprietor why, but have yet to hear back. I hope there’s an explanation. This is a serious loss to geeks such as I.)
By the time Casey reached the Top 5, I felt pretty confident in being able to predict what I was going to hear. It was the spring of 1974, I’d heard this show the first time it aired, and after 43 years I know the territory: “Come and Get Your Love,” “The Lord’s Prayer,” “TSOP,” and “Hooked on a Feeling.”
That left only the week’s #1 hit. I was sitting at a stop sign when it came on: “Bennie and the Jets” by Elton John. And I said out loud to nobody, “Where the fk is ‘The Streak’?” The answer: at #84, where it debuted during the week of April 13. It would go 84-54-19-6-2 before hitting #1 during the week of May 18, staying two weeks and remaining in the Top 10 til the end of June and in the Hot 100 until August.
So maybe those nights I remember, up there in my bedroom at home, trying to keep my radio locked on that sketchy AM signal from Rockford, were later in the spring than I thought. Perhaps May instead of April.
It seems like a small thing, being off by one month after 43 years. And besides, a man my age sees many of his abilities begin to decline. Nevertheless, I wasn’t expecting that this—my idiot-savant-like memory for record charts, something that defines who I am and what I care about—would be one of them.
(Pictured: the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, 1967.)
As we make our way through the 50th anniversary of 1967, looking back at the Billboard Hot 100 week by week is a mind-blowing experience: so many songs that remain imprinted on our DNA, so many acts that define what pop and rock music means to us, all appearing in what was then real time. The chart dated March 11, 1967, is almost too much to take in: “Ruby Tuesday,” “Kind of a Drag,” “Penny Lane,” “Happy Together,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “The Beat Goes On,” “I’m a Believer,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and others. You know them all. Some notes follow:
—There’s remarkable volatility on the chart, at least by pre-Soundscan standards. “Penny Lane” jumps from #36 to #5 and “Strawberry Fields Forever” enters the Top 40 at #16 from #45 the week before. “Happy Together” leaps to #8 from #21, and “Dedicated to the One I Love” by the Mamas and the Papas hits #10 from #26.
—Amidst the rock classics, middle-of-the-road pop continues to make a stand as Ed Ames’ “My Cup Runneth Over” moves into the Top 10. It’s a love song of remarkable power and poignancy, as we’ve noted before. Also among the Top 60 this week: Frankie Laine, Tom Jones (with the classic “Green Green Grass of Home”), Al Martino, Jack Jones, and Petula Clark.
—The Royal Guardsmen had spent four weeks at #2 in January with “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. ” They had sent a copy of the record to Charles Schulz hoping to get his blessing. According to group member Barry Winslow, Schulz’s lawyers suggested the record be renamed “Squeaky vs. the Black Knight.” Eventually, the Guardsmen got official permission to use the Snoopy character, in exchange for “a pretty healthy chunk of money.” Fifty years ago this week, “Return of the Red Baron” blasts into the Top 40 on its way to #15. Two more Snoopy-themed hits will follow. At the end of 1967, “Snoopy’s Christmas” will become one of the most successful holiday novelties ever. “Snoopy for President” will stall at #85 in the summer of ’68.
—“I Never Loved a Man” by Aretha Franklin is in its second week on the chart, moving from #80 to #52. It was the only song finished during Aretha’s January session at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals—which dissolved into chaos thanks to a racially charged dispute between Franklin’s husband/manager and some of the session musicians.
—The chart is studded with other classic soul performances: “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” by Wilson Pickett, “It Takes Two” by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” by Sam and Dave, the Four Tops’ “Bernadette,” “Jimmy Mack” by Martha and the Vandellas, Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” and James Carr’s “The Dark End of the Street.” Also appearing: Jerry Butler, Freddie Scott, Solomon Burke, James Brown, Joe Tex, Jackie Wilson, Percy Sledge, Eddie Floyd, and Bo Diddley.
—Heads tuned to psychedelic rock can dig “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night,” “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet,” and “It’s a Happening Thing” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy this week. There are also plenty of pop songs sprinkled with trippy fairy dust: among them “Happy Together,” “Pretty Ballerina,” “98.6,” “Mairzy Doats” by the Innocence, and “That Acapulco Gold” by the Rainy Daze, whose chemical inspiration is right in the title.
—Besides “Kind of a Drag” at #2, the Buckinghams also score with “Laudy Miss Claudy” (badly misspelled by Billboard) at #98 and “Don’t You Care” at #100. “Kind of a Drag” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” were released on the Buckinghams’ original label, Chicago-based USA. “Don’t You Care” was the first release after the Buckinghams’ new deal with producer James William Guercio and Columbia Records, and it would blow “Clawdy” away, getting to #6 while “Clawdy” made only #41—although the fact that “Don’t You Care” is miles better had something to do with it too.
—Let’s find a reason to mention “Western Union” by the Five Americans (#58) and the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (#61).
We have occasionally noted the phenomenon of a great chart loaded with classic hits that ends up topped by a song that is neither great nor classic. The week of March 11, 1967, is one of those. “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” would be the weakest #1 song in the Supremes catalog if it wasn’t for “The Happening” later in 1967. But the songs behind it are so insanely great that it doesn’t matter.
(Pictured: Al Jarreau on stage, 1985.)
For several years in the early 80s, I kept my own personally ranked lists of the best songs of each year. I went looking for them the other day and was disappointed to find only the one for 1983. I wrote it up as an annotated countdown, although I’m not including all of the annotations. It includes 27 songs because of course it does.
27. “Two Less Lonely People”/Air Supply. Air Supply’s last gasp of innocent sweetness before hooking up with Jim “Try It Again, You’re Not Screaming Loud Enough” Steinman.
26. “Don’t Run”/KC and the Sunshine Band
25. “Penny for Your Thoughts”/Tavares. This isn’t as good as “It Only Takes a Minute” or “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel,” but possesses enough hypnotic soft soul to merit inclusion.
24. “Islands in the Stream”/Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton. The most burnt-out record of 1983, and one of two records I added totally out-of-the-box at KDTH this year. I predicted it would be #1 the first time I heard it.
22. “Stop in the Name of Love”/Hollies
21. “Promises Promises”/Naked Eyes
20. “I’m Still Standing”/Elton John
19. “Tokyo Joe”/Bertie Higgins. This guy is trying so hard to write and record a song that will be remembered as a classic in 50 years that he gets carried away with silliness sometimes, but this record is a good example of something that will sell to people who have never been more than 50 miles away from where they were born. (Rarely does the young asshole I used to be come back to me so vividly, and in my own words. This is a remarkably stupid and bad and nonsensical remark, and never mind the inclusion of this godawful record on the list for some reason I can no longer remember.)
18. “Take the Short Way Home”/Dionne Warwick. If we can’t have the Bee Gees, Lord, then let us have records like this. (That’s a distinction without a difference, sonny.)
17. “Spice of Life”/Manhattan Transfer
16. “Time (Clock of the Heart)”/Culture Club
15. “Break My Stride”/Matthew Wilder. It’s like Men at Work meets somebody—but I don’t know who.
14. “Every Breath You Take”/Police. They can quit now. They’ll never top this. From the writing to the performing to the production—this is perfect.
13. “Try Again”/Champaign
12. “Suddenly Last Summer”/Motels. Quite intelligent for a band some call “modern.” “Modern rock” is a red flag to me, which signals “beware—three-chord techno-pop stupidity ahead.” (Lo, the disdainful, ill-informed older brother of the MTV generation is heard from.)
11. “True”/Spandau Ballet. Another record defying its “modern rock” label. The last minute or two of this are the best musical minutes of the year.
10. “Come Dancing”/Kinks. If anyone is qualified to reminisce, these old geezers are. Includes one of the hardest gee-tar solo breaks this side of Quiet Riot, who, you shall note, are absent from this survey. (“Geezers.” Christ.)
9. “All This Love”/DeBarge. Well, maybe they do make ’em like they used to.
8. “Come on Eileen”/Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I never thought his would make it, not in a million years.
7. “Our House”/Madness
6. “Heart and Soul”/Huey Lewis and the News
5. “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”/Human League. The only song on the best of ’83 list that I first heard/saw on MTV. So much better than “Don’t You Want Me.”
4. “Billie Jean”/Michael Jackson. Frighteningly good. If I really have to die, I want to hear a record so good it kills me. I damn near bit the weenie with this one. An epic. On Epic, even. (Oh, shut up, Jim.)
3. “Electric Avenue”/Eddy Grant. There are some sounds on this that I’ve never heard anywhere before. A great record for annoying the neighbors.
2. “Jeopardy”/Greg Kihn. Another great record for annoying the neighbors. Made me keep believing in rock and roll when Thomas Dolby was in the Top 10, woof woof.
1. “Mornin'”/Al Jarreau. Jarreau never seems to take himself too seriously (how could you with a line like “mornin’, little Cheerios”?), the music jumps right out of the radio, it’s bright, happy, funky, and sweet. I liked it a little, yeah.
Oddly enough, I played “Mornin'” on the radio the day after Al Jarreau died, only to find this list, with “Mornin'” on top of it, three days later. I wouldn’t rank it as the best song of 1983 if I were ranking them now. It’s far more likely that #1 would be “Billie Jean,” “Jeopardy,” “Electric Avenue,” “Come Dancing,” or even “All This Love.”
As for the young man who ranked these songs, he was a work in progress who’s somewhat wiser now, thank the gods.
(Pictured: the Eagles, circa 1977.)
A few years ago some Internet site I was reading suggested that your life’s theme song is the one that was #1 on your 18th birthday. But there is no goddamn way I’m accepting “Love Is Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb. I would, however, take the #1 song on my 17th birthday: “New Kid in Town” by the Eagles, which hit the top 40 years ago this weekend, on February 26, 1977.
“New Kid in Town” crashed into the Billboard Hot 100 at #48 during the week of December 18, 1976, although its first appearance at ARSA is on a survey from KHJ in Los Angeles dated November 30. During Christmas week, it zoomed to #20, where it remained a second week during Billboard‘s annual holiday chart freeze. The holiday seems to have slowed its momentum a little; it went 16-12-7-6-4-2-2 before hitting the top at the end of February. It didn’t stick around long after its single week at the top, going back to #2, then 14-27-51 (during the week of March 26) and out.
The hit music from the winter of 1977 is to me a wondrous thing, as I have written before. It’s the soundtrack of being in love for the first time (with somebody who loved me back), and every song is a snapshot pulling me vividly back to those days. She likes ABBA, and I like “Dancing Queen” because she likes “Dancing Queen.” Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” comes on the console stereo in her living room as we play board games at the nearby kitchen table. Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” will eternally put me in the front seat of her car, the radio blasting as we go on some Saturday afternoon adventure. And Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England” plays as we fall into each other’s arms on the couch in her basement. “Night Moves,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Evergreen,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “Crackerbox Palace”—these and others will echo through my life and hers for decades to come, though in 1977, neither of us can yet comprehend so much time.
On the record chart, the seasons are always changing, and songs that we’ll identify with an awakening spring are new in the Top 40 during this still-winter week, including “So In To You” by the Atlanta Rhythm Section and “Right Time of the Night” by Jennifer Warnes. A future #1 song, the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” is new on the Hot 100 at #72. (Three weeks from now, “Hotel California” and “New Kid in Town” will essentially swap positions in the Top 40, the former jumping from #35 to #19, the latter falling from #14 to #27.) Also new on the Hot 100 during the week of February 26 is Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You,” another future #1 song. In a season when I am completely irrational about the songs I love—love beyond understanding that is impossible to explain in words—I may be the most irrational about “When I Need You.”
But back to “New Kid in Town.” Then and now, I dig the easy-rockin’ feel of it (one of the Eagles’ loveliest melodies and arrangements), it feeds my electric piano jones, and Glenn Frey sings beautifully.
What I thought of the words back then, I don’t know. Now, they seem remarkably sad: you’ve had your moment, when you’re the one everybody wants, but your moment will someday pass. “They will never forget you til somebody new comes along.” And before you’ve had the chance to adjust to your obsolescence, it becomes even more devastating. Somebody notices that “he’s holding her, and you’re still around.”
You’re still around? Why do you stay when you’re no longer wanted?
I have learned plenty about obsolescence and disappointment in 40 years. But I have also learned that the Eagles got a big thing wrong in “New Kid in Town”: you don’t have to forget, nor be forgotten, just because somebody new comes along. Not as long as the music that soundtracks your life never stops playing.