Category Archives: Record Charts

Breakdown Dead Ahead

(Pictured: There are lots of pictures of attractive women on the Internet. A significant percentage are of Blondie’s Debbie Harry.)

We’ll wrap up this week of posts about 1980 with the American Top 40 show from the week of May 24, 1980, which was the week after I started rockin’ the night shift at WXXQ. We were an album-rock station, although you would have heard some of the week’s Top 40 hits on our air. Some of them listed below (with a couple of additions for cause).

40. “Love Stinks”/J. Geils Band. Later in the summer, I’d try to make a hit out of “Just Can’t Wait” from the same album.

38. “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”/Billy Joel. Not merely debuting in the 40, but on the Hot 100 at this lofty position.

28. “The Seduction”/James Last. Not on our playlist that summer, but mentioned here because James Last, famed more in Europe than here for lushly orchestrated easy-listening music, died a couple of days ago at age 85. “The Seduction” was from the American Gigolo soundtrack, which also included Blondie’s “Call Me.”

24. “Pilot of the Airwaves”/Charlie Dore. We didn’t play this either, but Charlie Dore was the subject of an interesting interview with a British journalist earlier in the week, so go read it. As a radio guy I’m prejudiced, but “Pilot of the Airwaves” is the best thing on this countdown.

23. “Train in Vain”/The Clash. “Train in Vain” was not listed on either the label or the jacket of London Calling, so at the college radio station, we hand-labeled it. But one of the jocks just couldn’t figure it out. He’d play the wrong track every damn time.

22. ‘You May Be Right”/Billy Joel. Insert your own opinion here. I got nothin’.

17. “Another Brick in the Wall”/Pink Floyd. Casey introduces this by reading a letter from a guidance counselor who objects strongly to it, from the sentiments it expresses, to the ominous sound of it, to the way it makes teachers feel bad, all in the aggrieved tone of somebody who still thinks Guy Lombardo is the shit. Casey mentions that “the song’s creator” (Roger Waters, name not mentioned) wrote it as part of a larger work (The Wall, title not mentioned) that is critical of conformity and oppression in general, not just in schools. I am sure that wouldn’t have satisfied the letter writer. I am also sure I detected a wee touch of mockery in Casey’s tone as he read the letter.

16. “Breakdown Dead Ahead”/Boz Scaggs. Casey reports that listeners to a San Francisco radio station had recently voted the Boz track “Loan Me a Dime” as the song they’d most want to have on a desert island. You could do worse than to take “Breakdown Dead Ahead,” the hardest-rockin’ single Boz ever made. (Unintentionally hilarious video at that link.)

15. “Brass in Pocket”/Pretenders. I liked this when I heard it the other day, but I can’t remember having an opinion about it one way or the other in 1980.

14. “Coming Up”/Paul McCartney. Casey plays the studio version, on which Paul’s voice is processed almost to unrecognizability. He mentions that it’s a double-sided hit, but doesn’t say that the other side is the live version, which is far better.

11. “Against the Wind”/Bob Seger. By this point in the countdown I am starting to feel as if this show will never end—a common problem with the four-hour shows—and the repetitive blandness of the music doesn’t help. (See also #4, #13, #18, #19, #21, #26, #28, #30, #31, #34, #37, #39, and this old post about a different week in the summer of ’80.) The liveliest things on the show are the extras, which are disco hits from the summer of 1979. I never thought I’d be glad to hear “Ring My Bell” and “Bad Girls.”

10. “Cars”/Gary Numan. The single weirdest thing in my vinyl library might be the picture-disc 45 of Numan’s earlier single “Are Friends Electric?”

5. “Sexy Eyes”/Dr. Hook. We didn’t play this either, but I’m including it because you can’t name another Top 5 hit that’s gone further down the memory hole.

1. “Call Me”/Blondie. In its sixth and final week at the top. I don’t think we played this song on WXXQ either, but listening to the countdown the other day, I was so happy to hear something uptempo amidst all the adult-contemporary schlock that it almost sounded good to me.

This post isn’t very good, I fear. It is the summer 1980 Top 40 of posts.

Feels Like the First Time

(Pictured: Foreigner in 1977.)

We all recognize that certain seasons of certain years retain a hold on the imagination forever after. There are certain weeks like that, too. The single greatest piece of music writing I’ve ever read was Eric Boehlert’s Salon article about Christmas week of 1969, and the epic variety of music on both major charts that week, legendary songs, albums, and stars that both epitomize and shape the history of rock. In this blog’s first autumn, I wrote about a week in November 1976 loaded with what would become classic-rock radio standards. Recently I have been listening to the American Top 40 show from May 28, 1977, and that particular week was even better. Dig it:

4. “Dreams”/Fleetwood Mac
7. “Couldn’t Get It Right”/Climax Blues Band
10. “Feels Like the First Time”/Foreigner
11. “Hotel California”/Eagles
17. “Heard It in a Love Song”/Marshall Tucker Band
18. “Lido Shuffle”/Boz Scaggs
20. “Jet Airliner”/Steve Miller Band
21. “So In to You”/Atlanta Rhythm Section
24. “Margaritaville”/Jimmy Buffett
25. “Mainstreet”/Bob Seger
28. “Life in the Fast Lane”/Eagles

You might debate which of those are Image cuts and which are mere Gold (to use some jargon from deep in my program-director past), but either way they’d be among the first into the library if you were building a classic-rock format from scratch. And there are more further down the Hot 100:

42. “On the Border”/Al Stewart
43. “Spirit in the Night”/Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
52. “Peace of Mind”/Boston
56. “You and Me”/Alice Cooper
68. “I’m in You”/Peter Frampton
69. “Cinderella”/Firefall
71. “The Pretender”/Jackson Browne
73. “Back in the Saddle”/Aerosmith
74. “Solsbury Hill”/Peter Gabriel
83. “Burnin’ Sky”/Bad Company
84. “Barracuda”/Heart
86. “Just a Song Before I Go”/Crosby Stills and Nash
96. “Ridin’ the Storm Out”/REO Speedwagon

A pretty good mixtape, yes?

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Skiing in Africa

(Pictured: the Rubettes. Nice hats, guys.)

By 1974, Portugal’s colonies in Africa were in open revolt. Groups within Mozambique, Angola, and Portuguese Guinea (now known as Guinea-Bissau) had been fighting a guerrilla war and seeking independence for a decade. In that year, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) took control of Mozambiquan territory, and most of the 250,000 Portuguese residents of the colony were either expelled or got the hell out. On June 25, 1975, Mozambique became officially independent from Portugal—and any remaining Portuguese were given 24 hours to leave. Under the new government, the name of the capital city, Lourenço Marques, was changed to Maputo.  And that fall, LM Radio 917, a commercial radio station that had been operating since 1936, was taken off the air.

LM Radio had been programmed primarily at a South African audience, privately owned and operated by British investors since the 1940s. Since the late 50s it had programmed to a young audience not served by state radio in South Africa, although the state-owned South African Broadcasting Company would take it over in 1972. In 1974, it was seized by FRELIMO. Nevertheless, it seems to have kept up its usual pop and rock programming for another year in the midst of turmoil, until the new government of Mozambique shut it down in October 1975 with a final broadcast by one of the announcers who had been there since 1947.

The Airheads Radio Survey archive has a small collection of music surveys from LM Radio 917—just a handful from the years 1970 to 1975, including one from May 25, 1975, a week in which Mozambique would have been at peak boil, less than a month from its official independence. It’s weird to imagine having “Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” “Jackie Blue,” “Shining Star,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” and other such hits playing in your ear while guerrillas are waging war in the streets of your city, but radio stations soundtracked people’s lives everywhere back in the day, no matter who, no matter where.

We are, as usual, interested in the less-familiar songs of that season.

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I’ve Got a Feeling

Here’s a pretty fabulous survey from R&B station KGFJ in Los Angeles dated May 24, 1976. It includes many songs that had been, were, or would become major pop hits that year: “Love Hangover,” “Disco Lady,” “Get Up and Boogie,” “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker,” “Misty Blue,” “Livin’ for the Weekend,” “I’ll Be Good to You.” Many familiar groups are listed with less-familiar hits that didn’t become pop-radio blockbusters. And there are plenty of oddballs to note, which is how we roll around here.

8. “Traveling Man”/Masqueraders. Formed in Texas around the turn of the 1960s, this group toured briefly as the New Drifters, although none of their members seem to have had any connection to the original Drifters. In 1965, they moved to Detroit with the promise of an audition at Motown, but were stranded there after the label passed on them. They walked across town and knocked on the door of La Beat Records, run by a guy named Lou Beatty, who gave them a place to sleep and eventually bankrolled several singles. Later, they moved on to Memphis, working with Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill, finally signing with Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul label. “Traveling Man”—correct full title “(Call Me) The Traveling Man”—was so big in Philadelphia that Kenny Gamble approached the group about signing with him. They remained loyal to Hayes, however—not knowing that Hot Buttered Soul was about to go bankrupt. (Did not make Hot 100; bubbled under at #101.)

21. “Let’s Make a Baby”/Billy Paul. At the crossroads of idealistic hopefulness and the physical need to get down, there’s this. No way they weren’t getting the line “be fruitful and multiply” in there. (Hot 100 peak: #83.)

24. “Love Hangover”/Fifth Dimension. The story goes that when Berry Gordy got wind of the Fifth Dimension’s plan to release “Love Hangover,” he rushed out a version that Diana Ross had cut—which she did not like. Both charted the very same week, but Diana rose to #1 while the Fifth Dimension lasted but four weeks on the Hot 100, even though the two records sound almost exactly alike. “Love Hangover” turned out to be the last of the Fifth Dimension’s 30 Hot 100 hits. (Hot 100 peak: #80.)

27. “I’ve Got a Feeling”/Al Wilson. Everybody who reads this blog can think of at least a dozen singles—or a hundred—that deserved to be huge but were not. “I’ve Got a Feeling (We’ll Be Seeing Each Other Again)” is one from my list. Wilson had hit #1 with “Show and Tell” a couple of years earlier, a record that’s damn near perfect. I suppose “I’ve Got a Feeling” was a little too much like “Show and Tell,” but other singers have copied themselves and repeated their previous successes. So I dunno. (Hot 100 peak: #29, which is not bad but still.)

40. “Spanish Hustle”/Fatback Band. The story of how I learned to do the Hustle in physical education class sometime in 1975 or 1976 is part of my personal mythology. I can’t remember much other than the fact of it, or my general embarrassment at having to do something that required physical grace, and in the presence of the opposite sex yet. I seem to recall that we learned to do a step called the Spanish Hustle, but how it differs from the plain old Hustle, I don’t remember. I’m pretty sure, however, that we did it to this. (Did not make Hot 100; bubbled under at #101.)

KGFJ occupies a unique place in the history of radio. It was apparently the first radio station in the United States to broadcast 24 hours a day, beginning in 1927. Although some stations had done occasional all-night broadcasts as early as 1922, KGFJ was the first to do it full-time. During its soul music heyday, its jock lineup included Hunter Hancock, the Magnificent Montague, and Frankie Crocker. It changed call letters a couple of times over the years; today it’s a Korean language station called KYPA.

The Girl in the Control Booth

Here’s another walk through an old Billboard magazine, found at American Radio History and dated May 10, 1975. As before, these are random thoughts as I page through.

Page 1: “U.S. Courts Refuse Dupers’ Pitch: Can’t Copy Pre-1972 Masters, Judges Say.” Two companies were claiming the legal right to market tapes of records made before February 15, 1972. I confess that the ins and outs of the decision as described in the article are a little hazy to me—but the February 15, 1972, date remains significant 40 years later. Sirius/XM and Pandora are involved in legal disputes over whether they should be obligated to pay royalties for playing records made before that date. Also on page 1 is a story about Ampex deciding to get out of the business of pre-recorded tapes. By this, they mean they will stop doing duplications for major labels including London and Brunswick.

Page 3: A company called 2001 Clubs of America intends to franchise “a totally computerized ‘turnkey’ discotheque concept.” The company operates two locations itself, in Pittsburgh and Columbus. Everything is controlled by computer, from air conditioning to music to drink sales. “A professional deejay is not needed,” a spokesman says, “but a girl in the control booth takes requests and puts on the pre-programmed tapes and records.”

Page 4: “A Dead Apple in London: Label’s Staff Gets Pared.” The lede: “Apple Records, for all intents and purposes, has closed down.”

Page 7: There’s a full-page ad for Dyn-o-Mite, the album by TV star Jimmie Walker, on the Buddah label.

Page 8: Alabama Custom Tape, located in Florence, Alabama, was recently raided by the FBI. The company and its owner, Autry Inman (who has made an appearance at this blog before) are being sued for copyright infringement.

Page 20: The Vox Jox column pays tribute to Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue, often credited with inventing progressive FM radio at KMPX in San Francisco. He died of a heart attack on April 28th at age 46.

Page 21: The Great American Birthday Party is “the complete bicentennial celebration package from Dick Orkin, producer of Chickenman and the Tooth Fairy.” It’s a package of “wild and zany features, heartwarming and inspiring dramas, kookie contests, powerful promos, memorable music and jingles and 76 daffy DJ inserts. They’re all packaged into very salable lengths of less than two minutes each.” I’d love to hear some of it, but there’s precious little about it on the Internets other than this ad.

Page 31: We find three different articles about companies getting into home video. Sony’s Betamax unit appears poised to be the market leader, although you’d need a big living room to accommodate it, and up to $2,000 to buy one.

Page 52: “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” by Tony Orlando and Dawn holds at #1 for a second week, tucked in ahead of “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” by Freddy Fender. There’s one new entry in the Top 10, “I Don’t Like to Sleep Alone” by Paul Anka at #10. “Old Days” by Chicago is new in the Top 40, all the way up at #17. (Apart from “Old Days,” the mightiest leap within the Top 40 is made by Linda Ronstadt, whose “When Will I Be Loved” vaults from #33 to #20.) Only two other songs debut within the 40: “Magic” by Pilot at #36 and “Get Down Get Down” by Joe Simon, the current #1 on the soul chart, at #39. The highest-debuting song on the Hot 100 is “Attitude Dancing” by Carly Simon at #71.

Page 54: On the album chart, Chicago VIII is #1 again this week. Only two albums in the Top 10 have a bullet: That’s the Way of the World by Earth Wind and Fire (moving from #3 to #2) and Bad Company’s Straight Shooter (moving from #12 to #8). The highest-debuting new album is Elvin Bishop’s Juke Joint Jump at #115. The album chart lists 200; Carole King’s Tapestry is in the anchor position, down from #198 the week before, in its 214th week on.

One Day in Your Life: May 17, 1973

(Pictured: Tony Orlando and Dawn. It was this or Nixon.)

Here’s a post from 2005 I found while digging in the archives of my first blog, The Daily Aneurysm. It’s been edited a bit. 

On May 17, 1973, the Senate Watergate hearings began. I was in seventh grade that spring, already a news junkie, so if anybody in my school besides the teachers knew about Watergate, it was me. Our social studies teachers, Miss Alt and Miss Odell, made us watch the hearings in class. I am not sure how many students really understood what they meant—and I don’t remember how much I understood about the hearings, either. But I knew major news events when I saw them, so I was interested.

No matter what’s on the front page, above the fold, like the Watergate hearings, life goes on in countless other ways, with events that leave lighter footprints on time. . . .

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