(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.
(Pictured: LBJ and Lady Bird welcome British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and his wife to the White House in December 1965.)
I have written before about how 50th anniversaries capture our imagination in ways that 49th or 51st anniversaries do not. So nobody should be surprised that we’re going back 50 years on this day, to the issue of Billboard magazine dated December 25, 1965. Headlines on the front page include “Tijuana Sound Pacesetter for New Pop Music Style” and “‘Sound of Music’ Sells at 400,000 Monthly Clip”. Data inside the magazine confirms the headlines: Whipped Cream and Other Delights by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and the soundtrack from The Sound of Music are #1 and #2 on the album chart.
Inside, a story on the music NASA played for the astronauts aboard the Gemini 7 mission mentions Duke Ellington’s recording of “Fly Me to the Moon” “Star Burst” by Glen Gray, and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” (The nearly two-week flight splashed down on December 18th.) Astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, who will fly together again on Apollo 8’s fabled Christmas mission three years hence, disagree over styles: Borman says he prefers “quiet and restful” while Lovell likes “loud and noisy.” The music is not just for entertainment; it’s used to test communication systems. NASA’s DJ is astronaut Elliott See, who is set to command the Gemini 9 mission in the summer of 1966. He won’t make it, however. See and fellow Gemini 9 astronaut Charlie Bassett will die in a plane crash in February 1966 while flying to St. Louis for training sessions.
Billboard publishes a ranking of the top 40 hits in the 15 biggest radio markets. (These charts would be a fascinating area of research for somebody with a stronger work ethic than I.) Number-one hits include the Byrds’ “Turn Turn Turn” in Baltimore and Cleveland, the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out” in Boston and Seattle, “Let’s Hang On” by the Four Seasons in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles, “I Got You” by James Brown in New Orleans, Philadelphia, and St. Louis, “A Taste of Honey” by the Tijuana Brass in New York, “No Matter What Shape” by the T-Bones in Detroit, and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” in Miami, San Francisco, and Washington. The #1 song on the Hot 100, however, is “Over and Over” by the Dave Clark Five. “We Can Work It Out” makes a mighty leap to #11 from #36 the previous week; in both cities where it’s currently #1, it was #22 the week before.
The chart of Top Christmas Sellers lists 30 singles and 60 albums. The top 10 singles are mostly perennials, although Buck Owens’ “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy” and Derrik Roberts’ Vietnam-themed “There Won’t Be Any Snow” are both new (and the latter is really . . . something). Outside the Top 10, Jimmy Dean’s “Yes, Patricia, There Is a Santa Claus,” was out the previous year as the flipside of “Little Sandy Sleighfoot,” but it’s charted on its own this year thanks to the new album Jimmy Dean’s Christmas Card. Other new albums include the Supremes’ Merry Christmas, which has two tracks on the singles chart, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Me” and “Children’s Christmas Song,” and The Ventures’ Christmas Album, on which the guitar group incorporates licks from familiar songs in ways that will delight rock fans for the next half-century at least.
Also new for 1965: “May You Always” by New York radio personality Harry Harrison. Harrison was one of the WMCA Good Guys starting in 1959; from 1968 through 1979 he would do mornings at WABC. In 1980, he took over mornings on WCBS-FM, a position he held until 2003. Every year at Christmas, he would either play or perform “May You Always” on the air.
“May You Always” is most appropriate for New Year’s Eve, but it’s the perfect way to end this Christmas Eve post—except to add my own wish that you get what you most want this Christmas, from those you’d most like to get it from.
(Pictured: Lou Rawls, a funky drummer.)
For a few years around the turn of the 1970s, WCFL in Chicago featured separate listings of Christmas hits on its Christmas-week surveys. Looking at those surveys the other day, I found several unfamiliar titles, which sent me down various rabbit holes to learn more.
“Winter’s Children” by Capes of Good Hope appeared in 1966 under “Christmas Premiers.” There’s more about it in this post from Kent Kotal’s Forgotten Hits. “Winter’s Children” is apparently a baroque pop-rock reboot of Bach’s “Sleepers Awake,” and the Capes were from Chicago.
In 1970, WCFL’s un-numbered Christmas list included “Goin’ Home” by Bobby Sherman, which is from Sherman’s Christmas album, mentioned in a previous post. It’s subtitled “Sing a Song of Christmas Cheer,” and it incorporates one verse of “Silent Night.” All in all, it ain’t bad. That same year, WCFL also charted “The Chant” by Jane Avenue Bus Stop, co-written by Paul Hoffert and Skip Prokop, founders of the Canadian band Lighthouse (“One Fine Morning”). I am not sure how Christmassy it is, given its subtitle: “Nam Myoho Renge’kyo,” which my typically half-assed research effort reveals to be a Buddhist chant to strengthen one’s capacity for wisdom, courage, confidence, vitality, and compassion. The fact that the single was released on the Buddah label is just a bonus.
In 1971 and 1972, WCFL listed a Christmas Top 10. The 1971 list was topped by Peter Paul and Mary’s version of “The Marvelous Toy” and a Four Seasons version of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Like other stuff I have heard from the Seasons’ 1962 Christmas album, it’s horrid. Definitely not horrid: Lou Rawls’ version of “The Little Drummer Boy,” originally released in 1967. The list of good versions of “The Little Drummer Boy” is very short, but Lou is on it.
The 1972 Christmas Top 10 included a version of “The Little Drummer Boy” by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, for those who needed to hear it with bagpipes. (Pro tip: you do not.) It is one of several novelties that WCFL inflicted on Chicago during that festive season. Among them: “Can You Fix the Way I Talk for Christmas” by Vincent and Pesci. That’s Frank Vincent and Joe Pesci, better known as actors, with the distinction of having killed one another in three different movies—Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino. Vincent plays Santa; Pesci does a Porky Pig stutter over a children’s chorus. It is every bit as dire as you imagine. Also dire: “How I Love Those Christmas Songs” by the Country Squirrels. America’s fascination with speeded-up rodent voices at Christmas (“The Chipmunk Song” and “The Happy Reindeer” by Dancer, Prancer, and Nervous, to name two other examples) is inexplicable by any method currently known to science.
Also appearing on WCFL’s 1972 chart was a musician worth knowing more about: Louis Paul, born and raised in Memphis, who as a young man gigged with everybody who came through town, and was eventually in a band called the Guilloteens. Elvis Presley was a fan, and he got them a gig in Los Angeles, where Phil Spector was impressed enough to produce them, although they signed with Hanna Barbera Records before their work with Spector got beyond the demo stage. (“From Wall of Sound to Huckleberry Hound,” as Paul put it.) Paul got a solo deal with Stax in 1972; “It’s Christmas Time (And We Are All Alone)” was one of a handful of singles that resulted. Paul died this past September in a four-wheeler accident at age 67.
Also on the 1972 chart is “Christmas Song” by Shawn Phillips, which is quite good. “Hotel Christmas” by David Woeller is a Shel Silverstein song produced by Ron Haffkine. Based on that, I’d guess it has a Dr. Hook feel, but various Internet sites label it country. And we’ll have to guess, since it’s not up at YouTube.
If you are a Facebooker (and I still am, despite all attempts to cut back), the WCFL-AM Chicago group features this kind of thing, frequently.
(Pictured: in 1970, the Jackson Five had so much swag they didn’t need Santa to bring them a thing.)
In 2011 and 2012, I wrote a handful of posts about Billboard‘s Christmas charts for 1966, 1967, and 1972. Thanks to the extensive run of Billboard issues available at American Radio History, I can go back to that well again, and back to 1970.
Billboard begins listing “Best Bets for Christmas” in the issue dated December 5, 1970, but the list contains only albums. A list of Christmas singles doesn’t appear until the week of December 19th. The Jackson Five top both charts; their Christmas album and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” were both new that year. The #2 album of the week was also new for 1970: Christmas Album by Bobby Sherman.
(Seven of the 30 albums on the chart are listed with the title Christmas Album: besides the Jacksons and Sherman, Andy Williams, Perry Como, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Dean Martin, and Paul Mauriat used the title. Honorable mentions go to Elvis’ Christmas Album, Jim Nabors’ Christmas Album, and A Christmas Album by Barbra Streisand. Another popular Christmas album title, Merry Christmas, appears three times, by Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, and the Supremes, with another honorable mention for Henry Mancini’s A Merry Mancini Christmas.)
Among the other new releases for 1970 are the album The Temptations’ Christmas Card and the single “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Country star Charley Pride’s Christmas in My Home Town is new as well, as is the soundtrack from the movie Scrooge, which stars Albert Finney and Alec Guinness. A Christmas Festival by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops is a new release, but only three of its nine tracks are new; the rest are reissues from the 1965 album Pops Christmas Party. A Capitol Records compilation titled Peace on Earth is new, but it includes previously released material from Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Glen Campbell, the Lettermen, the Beach Boys, and others.
Another of the new-charting albums for Christmas 1970 is Christmas With Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass. Davis mixed horns with country music, and he charted on the Billboard 200 eight times between 1969 and 1972, not counting this Christmas album, which was limited to the Christmas chart. Although we listened to plenty of the Nashville Brass at our house—my parents were big, big fans—I don’t recall the Christmas album being part of Mom and Dad’s collection. The Nashville Brass version of “Winter Wonderland” is highly representative of their sound, Christmassy and otherwise.
Apart from “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the singles chart contains other new releases for 1970 including the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling,” which will return to the radio for the next 45 years at the very least, and the title song from Charley Pride’s album. Also on the singles chart for the first time is “Santa Claus Is Definitely Here to Stay” by James Brown, from his album Hey America, which is made up of eight Christmas originals. Oddly, Hey America made neither the Christmas album chart nor the Billboard 200.
So the story of 1970 is similar to the other years we have investigated—with few exceptions, record buyers continued to purchase or repurchase music from previous years. Some of it went back into the 50s (Elvis, the Harry Simeone Chorale) and some as far as the 30s and 40s (Bing), but the majority of it had been released within the preceding six or seven years, during what we’d now have to consider the golden age of pop Christmas music.
(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.