(Pictured: Bryan Adams hangs out backstage, circa 1985.)
Here’s a chart from CILQ, an album-rock station in Toronto, dated May 18, 1985. There are some pretty familiar albums listed, and they contain songs that haven’t been off the radio since 1985: “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Summer of ’69,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Dancing in the Dark,” “The Boys of Summer.” And there’s also the stuff on the flip:
(Pictured: Potsie, Ralph, Richie, and the Fonz discuss vital issues of the day.)
Forty years ago this week, I was finishing up my sophomore year in high school by locking down my class schedule for the fall. For the first time, we were permitted to schedule classes ourselves instead of taking what they told us to take when they told us to take it. The baseball team, of which I was equipment manager, won one game and lost two. John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back” was the new #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 dated May 8th, while the previous week’s #1, “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers, plunged to #9. “Silly Love Songs” by Wings and Silver Convention’s “Get Up and Boogie” were new in the Top 10. The hottest record in the Top 40 was the Rolling Stones’ double-sided hit, “Fool to Cry” and “Hot Stuff,” which leaped from #46 to #20.
What’s at the top of that May 8th chart is the soundtrack of my life, and it plays in my head without the need for any other hardware. Down at the bottom, however, the going gets weird. That stuff is on the flip.
(Pictured: a driver’s ed student practices parallel parking, 1976.)
Forty years ago today—April 13, 1976—I got my driver’s license.
It was the culmination of a process that started in the fall of 1975 when I took the required one-semester driver’s ed course. It seemed easy to the point of ridiculousness—but it couldn’t have been too easy, since my report card from that semester shows I got a B for the first nine weeks. The course was taught by a man who taught only driver education in addition to proctoring a couple of study halls. Just as nobody grows up wanting to be a middle-relief pitcher, I suspect this guy didn’t go off to college nurturing the desire to teach barely respectful sophomores the rules of the road, but a job is a job.
After completing the classroom course, the next step was to take behind-the-wheel instruction. You’d drive with an instructor in the passenger seat, and share your hour with a partner. My partner was a girl I barely knew. We didn’t even know the same people, so we had quite literally nothing in common, and as a result we barely spoke, either in the car or out of it.
I remember only two things about my behind-the-wheel test. One, that I was not asked to parallel park, which is something that had kept more than one of my friends from passing on the first try. (Since I never had to learn to do it right, I have never done it well.) And two, the smile I eventually got from the cop who had ridden along with me. After I parked outside the local DMV office and watched him calmly making notes on his clipboard, the suspense was killing me. I finally asked, “Did I make it?” “Yeah, you passed.”
(I was spared the fate of one classmate, who had apparently aced the behind-the-wheel test until she ran into a parked car while returning to the lot.)
On the radio that week, the #1 song on WLS was Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” in its second of five weeks at the top. Holding at #2 was “Lonely Night (Angel Face)” by the Captain and Tennille, a record I like more now than I did then. The hottest song on the chart was at #3: the Sylvers’ “Boogie Fever,” which took a mighty leap from #12 the week before. The glorious variety of 70s Top 40 music was on display within the Top 10, where Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” Foghat’s “Slow Ride,” and Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” sat alongside the Four Seasons (“December 1963”), Johnnie Taylor (“Disco Lady”) and Dr. Hook (“Only Sixteen”). Besides “Boogie Fever,” only one other song was new among the week’s top 10: “Right Back Where We Started From” by Maxine Nightingale, which went from #18 to #9. Other big movers on the WLS survey included “Lorelei” by Styx (#17 to #11), “Baby Face” by the Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps, a disco version of a hit from the 1920s (#31 to #21), and “Show Me the Way” by Peter Frampton (#45 to #28).
Their Greatest Hits, 1971-1975 by the Eagles held at #1 on the album chart; fast movers included the Captain and Tennille’s Song of Joy (#14 to #5), Fool for the City by Foghat (#15 to #9), and Frampton Comes Alive (#17 to #11). Notables on the album chart include two Aerosmith albums in the top five (Aerosmith and Toys in the Attic), a listing that reads Runes (Led Zeppelin IV), which moved from #20 to #19, and Robin Trower Live debuting at #31. The list is actually pretty solid, with a bunch of greatest-hits compilations and plenty of classics: A Night at the Opera, Desire, Still Crazy After All These Years, Fleetwood Mac, One of These Nights.
After I passed the test and tucked the license safely into my wallet, my father let me drive the family car—the banana-yellow ’73 Mercury Montego—home in triumph. With the radio on, of course.
(Pictured: Motown singer Brenda Holloway, in an unconventional shot.)
Since before Christmas, we’ve been listening to records that spent a single week in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 between 1964 and 1986. This installment is starting beyond that time frame, however.
During the week of June 22, 1959, “Tall Cool One” by the Wailers rose to #36 for a single week before dropping out of the 40. Almost exactly five years later, during the week of May 30, 1964, the very same recording of “Tall Cool One” entered the Top 40 for another single week, hitting #38 before dropping out again. So they may not belong here at all—or they may deserve extra-special recognition. Either way, the Wailers occupy their own special niche in music history. Backing a fellow Washington state singer named Rockin’ Robin Roberts, they cut the prototype version of “Louie, Louie” in 1961, and are considered one of the first garage bands.
The Viscounts, an instrumental group from New Jersey, also re-charted an earlier hit to make this list. Early in 1960, they hit #52 with “Harlem Nocturne.” Six years later, the same recording made the Top 40—#39, to be precise, for the week of January 1, 1966.
Another fabled garage band, the Shadows of Knight, recorded a version of “Gloria” that hit #10, far eclipsing the original version by Van Morrison’s group Them. They had four other Hot 100 hits in 1966 alone, but only one made the Top 40 and stayed but a week, “Oh Yeah,” at #39 for the week of July 2, 1966. The Five Americans, a group of Oklahomans who formed officially in Dallas, are also considered a garage band. They hit the Top 40 four times, most famously with “Western Union” in 1967. “Zip Code” hit #36 for the week of September 17, 1967. Zip codes were relatively new back then, and the writer of the song had a little trouble with the concept, referring to the zip code “one double-oh-three six-oh-eleven.” Still, if the Postal Service never tried to turn it into a public-service announcement, they failed at their job.
Dionne Warwick, who charted many, many Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs, took their “Are You There (With Another Girl)” to #39 for the week of January 22, 1966. One week later, Fontella Bass, best known for “Rescue Me,” hit #37 with her followup single, “Recovery.”
“Rescue Me” is the best Motown single not to appear on Motown. Brenda Holloway, who actually did appear on Motown, hit #39 with the original version of “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” which she co-wrote, on December 4, 1967. Two weeks later, it would be gone from the Hot 100, and about as quickly, Holloway would be gone from Motown.
Just as Dionne Warwick recorded plenty of Bacharach/David songs, the Fifth Dimension recorded several by Jimmy Webb. After making an indelible smash of “Up Up and Away,” they released Webb’s “Paper Cup,” which Allmusic.com describes as Webb’s tribute to the Beatles, seeming to borrow from “Getting Better” and “Penny Lane.” It bounced from #44 to #34 and back to #44 again, reaching its peak for the week of December 9, 1967.
Other adult pop stars are on our list. Dean Martin made it with “Come Running Back,” which made #35 for the week of June 11, 1966. So did Vikki Carr, who followed her #3 smash “It Must Be Him” with “The Lesson,” which hit #34 for the week of January 27, 1968. Petula Clark hit the Top 40 with 15 straight singles between 1965 and 1968. The last one, “Don’t Give Up,” made #37 for the week of August 24, 1968. (“Don’t Give Up” is a song I didn’t know I remembered; it must have gotten a lot of airplay on our hometown radio station and I absorbed it by accident.) Engelbert Humperdinck was a regular visitor to the Top 40 during about the same time; “I’m a Better Man,” another Bacharach/David joint, made #38 for the week of September 27, 1969. All four of these hits made the Top 10 on the Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart; “The Lesson” was #1.
If I’m counting correctly (always a questionable proposition), we have 28 songs remaining on this list, so future installments of this feature are guaranteed—as much as anything is guaranteed in a world such as this.
(Pictured: REO Speedwagon in 1980, the last year before their national breakout.)
For this last post of 2015, I was going to write about the year-end chart from 1975, but we spent enough time on 1975 this year. Then I thought, “How about 1985?” But all of the top-hits-of-1985 charts at ARSA look pretty much the same, and are lacking in the sort of oddball records we like to highlight around here. (That’s pretty good evidence of the grip that risk-averse, consultant-driven programming had on the industry by the middle of the 80s.)
So I split the difference and grabbed the WLS Big 89 of 1980. It was a transitional year for Chicago’s legendary Top 40 blowtorch, one in which they started rocking harder while at the same time continuing to play the soft-rock hits doing big Top 40 business. The transition accounts for some of the more interesting entries on the chart: Off Broadway’s “Stay in Time” at #11, “Gimme Some Lovin'” by the Blues Brothers at #17, and “Train in Vain” by the Clash at #20, to name but three. But softer pop tunes were still an important part of the station’s sound: Look no further than Air Supply’s “Lost in Love” at #1, or the soporific “Longer” and “Sailing” elsewhere in the Top 10.
(I was doing album-rock radio that summer, but still listening to a lot of Top 40, and I remember being blown away by “Lost in Love” the first time I heard it. Thirty-five years later, there still hasn’t been anything quite like it—not even in Air Supply’s catalog.)
On the flip, find five more songs worth circling—and some record-chart weirdness—from the Big 89 of 1980.
(Pictured: I could have chosen any of the top artists of 1965 to head this post. I picked Soupy Sales, seen here on the TV show Hullabaloo, because of course I did.)
Continuing my obsession with round numbers, and our culture’s obsession with 50th anniversaries, let’s dig into the Top 100 hits of 1965, as ranked by New York’s legendary Top 40 station, WABC. As you might expect, it reads like its own rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame. Here’s the top 10:
1. “Satisfaction”/Rolling Stones
3. “I Can’t Help Myself”/Four Tops
4. “Downtown”/Petula Clark
5. “1-2-3″/Len Barry
6. “A Lover’s Concerto”/Toys
7. “Let’s Hang On”/Four Seasons
8. “I Got You Babe”/Sonny & Cher
9. “Come See About Me”/Supremes
10. “Stop! In the Name of Love”/Supremes
True, Petula Clark, Len Barry, and the Toys haven’t endured quite like the others, but if you don’t like them, swap in “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “I Feel Fine,” “I Hear a Symphony,” or “Hang on Sloopy” from positions 11 through 20.
It’s necessary to dig a bit to find some less well-remembered hits, but we will, on the flip.