(Pictured: Ronnie Milsap on stage in the 70s.)
The movie Urban Cowboy, which is often credited with sparking a pop-country boom, was released on June 6, 1980, but the pop-country trend had been strong for a while by then. “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer” by Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes, #3 on this chart, was #4 pop in the same week, and is country only in terms of where Rogers was filed in the record store. Anne Murray’s “Lucky Me” (#9) is one of several crossover hits she scored in 1979 and 1980, although it was less successful on the pop charts (#42) than previous singles had been. Mickey Gilley was climbing the country chart with two records, both remakes: “True Love Ways” (#15) and “Stand By Me” (#45), and both eventual pop crossovers, with “Stand By Me” going all the way to #22. Although neither side of Ronnie Milsap’s current #1 single, “My Heart”/”Silent Night,” crossed over to pop, both of them certainly could have; Milsap would hit the Hot 100 13 times between 1977 and 1984. And down at #24 was the familiar soulful swing of Crystal Gayle on “The Blue Side.”
In 1974, Marilyn Sellars had a #10 hit with the country-gospel song “One Day at a Time.” This chart contains a poppier version of it that ended up a bigger hit. Cristy Lane, the Academy of Country’s Music’s Best New Female Vocalist of 1979, had five Top-10 country hits before her take on “One Day at Time.” It would spend only a week at #1 later in June, but its overtly religious theme opened a second career for her as a Christian-music artist; later albums and her biography were hawked endlessly on TV, always referring to “One Day at a Time.”
A band that would skate the line between pop and country for a couple of years in the process of becoming one of the biggest country acts in history was breaking into the Top 40 this week: “Tennessee River” by Alabama was at #36. It was their third record in six months to make the country Top 40, but this one would be their first to go to #1, in August. After that, their next 20 singles would hit #1—every last one that charted—until a 1987 release peaked at #7. Not to worry, however. After that, they’d hit #1 with nine of their next 10 singles, which gets us to 1991. By the end of the century they scored 32 #1 country hits in all. Seven of those #1s would cross to the Hot 100. In 1981 and 1982, “Feels So Right,” “Love in the First Degree,” and “Take Me Down” all made the Top 20.
That’s not to say that more traditional country was dead or dying. The 6/7/80 chart includes a record that some writers, including me, consider to be the best, most-emblematic country record of all time: “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones, at #9 this week on the way to #1 in July. It’s built on a metaphor that could easily became maudlin, with a weeping steel guitar and flourishing strings, but Jones is the perfect communicator for it, right down to his absolutely convincing sale of the spoken-word bit toward the end. “He Stopped Loving Her Today” earns its profound sadness legitimately. It has the emotional depth of a short story, which it kind of is.
On the subject of short stories: Don Williams was at #2 in this week with “Good Ole Boys Like Me.” Songwriter Bob McDill was as capable as anyone in Nashville of turning out disposable song product, but “Good Ole Boys Like Me” is positively literary:
Then Daddy came in to kiss his little man
With gin on his breath and a Bible in his hand
He talked about honor and things I should know
Then he’d stagger a little as he went out the door
Any song that name-checks Uncle Remus, Stonewall Jackson, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Wolfe, and legendary Nashville DJ John R just gots to be cool. As delivered by Don Williams, who scored hits with several Bob McDill songs over the years, “Good Ole Boys Like Me” has an intelligence, warmth, and depth that’s been AWOL from Music Row in Nashville for years now.
I wasn’t doing country radio in June of 1980—I’d started my summer gig at the album-rock station by then. But I’d be back in the fall, catching up on the hits of the summer.
(Pictured: the Trammps, lookin’ 70s sharp.)
In more than one Road Runner cartoon, Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff. He makes a long, drawn-out plummet toward the bottom, and he’s fully aware of what’s happening all the way down. Sometimes he even holds up a little sign that says “Help!” In 1978, the month of May was like that. At the end of that month, my friends and I would graduate from high school. So throughout May, everything we did was with that consciousness of falling. Last paper, last test, last game, last concert, last study-hall hangout, and finally that last gathering as a group, in caps and gowns. Often during that month, we were more than a little tempted to hold up that “Help” sign, as the magnitude of what was happening struck home.
Fooling around at ARSA the other day, I came across a radio survey from WISM, Madison’s legendary Top 40 station, dated May 18, 1978. Taken together, it’s soundtrack for that feeling of falling. I have written before about how several of the songs seemed to be speaking to those of us in the Class of ’78, depending on who you were. Those looking forward to a new beginning might hear “Feels So Good” or “Movin’ Out” or “With a Little Luck.” Those preferring to hold tight to the familiar might hear “Baby Hold On” or “You Belong to Me.” Someone sad about it might hear “It’s a Heartache.” And those who were looking for meaning as the day approached might hear “Dust in the Wind.”
There was a song for everyone.
Here are five songs from the WISM survey dated May 18, 1978, not otherwise mentioned here:
9. “Disco Inferno”/Trammps. One of the few songs with the word “disco” in the title that doesn’t seem vaguely embarrassing now. And the word “inferno” is appropriate, as this thing burns from first note to fade, even in its 10-minute Saturday Night Fever soundtrack version.
10. “Imaginary Lover”/Atlanta Rhythm Section. Somewhere up here in the office I have a copy of the ARS album Champagne Jam, which includes this song and “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight,” both of which are crazy good and not on the radio often enough anymore.
22. “Jack and Jill”/Raydio. The synthesizer that makes “Jack and Jill” sound dated is also what makes it sound awesome. From a radio standpoint, it’s got one of the great introductions, too. The full-length version runs something like 36 seconds, but the edit trims it to :17, which is actually better.
23. “This Time I’m in It for Love”/Player. After hitting #1 early in 1978 with “Baby Come Back,” Player returned to the Billboard Top 10 with this. In this case, the long version is better than the single edit, but either way, you’re gonna sing along with it. Or at least I am.
30. “You’re the Love”/Seals and Crofts. There are four singles from Saturday Night Fever on this chart, but nothing else you’d call a disco record except for Peter Brown’s “Dance With Me.” It wouldn’t be long, however, before every other current radio hit would be a disco record, and every Holiday Inn lounge from Oshkosh to Orlando was turning into a disco club. “You’re the Love” is a harbinger of all this, with a far bigger beat than anything else Seals and Crofts had ever done. If those extremely white dudes were ready to get their dance on, it’s no wonder so many other people were.
Last weekend, American Top 40 repeated the show dated May 20, 1978, essentially the same week. I have a big collection of AT40 shows, but I passed on making a copy of that one—and in deciding to skip it, I learned something about myself that I had not expected.
I loved a lot of my classmates, and a few remain cherished friends today. The years we spent together as kids are precious to me. But while I wouldn’t mind hearing any one of the hits of May 1978 in isolation, listening to them all at once is more than I’m willing to do. Even after 40 years, I don’t want to fall off the cliff again any more than Wile E. Coyote does.
We have passed several musical milestones from 1973 already this year, including the releases of Dark Side of the Moon and Houses of the Holy. Let other bloggers write about those. I will stick to subjects I am uniquely qualified to explore: Forty-five years ago this week, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn Featuring Tony Orlando hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Dawn had made a big splash with “Candida,” which hit #3 in the fall of 1970, and “Knock Three Times,” which went to #1 in January 1971. Their next three singles peaked at #25, #33, and #39 nationally, and the three after that didn’t crack the Top 40 at all. So when “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” landed at radio stations in the winter of 1973, there was no reason to think that it was going to be a monster, but a monster it turned out to be.
The song first shows up at ARSA on a survey from Detroit Top 40 giant CKLW on January 30, 1973. It cracked the Hot 100 on February 17 and picked up radio station adds in bunches throughout the last half of February. On March 17, it crashed into the Top 40, going from #48 to #29 the same week that it scored its first #1, at WCOL in Columbus, Ohio. Its climb up the Hot 100 was steady, going 29-19-13 and cracking the Top 10 at #6 on April 7. It would go to #3 the next week and #1 on April 21, 1973, taking out “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” by Vicki Lawrence. By then, it had hit #1 in literally dozens of cities across North America. It would top the Hot 100 for four weeks, and during that time it would rack up more local #1s. Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” dethroned it on May 19, but it wouldn’t start losing chart momentum until the end of June. WQAM in Miami actually charted it until February 1974.
Why was “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” such a massive hit? For one thing, people love a story well told, and it was surely that. Songwriters L. Russell Brown and Irwin Levine, who wrote several of Dawn’s most famous songs, took a Civil War legend about a prisoner of war returning home and transposed it to the story of a guy getting out of jail. (It might have resonated just as strongly had they kept the POW angle, given the return of those imprisoned in Vietnam during early 1973.) Maybe it offered an escape from the news of the day: the Watergate scandal exploded into public consciousness during the record’s run up the chart. But it also was an irresistably bouncy record at a time of year when that kind of thing sounds great, and Tony Orlando delivers an ingratiating performance. It was a polarizing record, however—some people simply ate it up, while others found it too cheesy to bear and/or grew sick to death of its endless repetition on the radio. But it ended up the #1 song of the year in at least 10 cities, and on Billboard‘s year-end singles chart as well.
After “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” Dawn doubled down on novelties (most famously “Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” and “Who’s in the Strawberry Patch With Sally” from the album Dawn’s New Ragtime Follies). The group got a four-episode CBS variety show in the summer of ’74 and a regular slot that December. Their show was reasonably successful for a couple of seasons before going off in late 1976. Although they’d hit #1 one more time, with a well-done cover of “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” in the spring of 1975, the hits slowed to a trickle during the TV years; Dawn’s last Hot 100 hit came early in 1977.
“Tie a Yellow Ribbon” remained part of American culture after its chart run, gaining new resonance during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 and 1980, and again during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. (The Gulf War inspired a new Dawn recording called “With Every Yellow Ribbon,” which had precious little to do with its semi-namesake.) But today, the significance of “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” is mostly as an artifact of the weird 1970s, when it scratched some sort of itch we couldn’t have described at the time.
It was an itch I didn’t suffer, by the way; although “Candida” and “Knock Three Times” were important records in my life and I was still buying 45s in the spring of 1973, I never considered buying “Tie a Yellow Ribbon.” It seemed to be on the radio every five minutes anyhow, and that was enough for me.
(Pictured: Shaun Cassidy meets the people in the summer of 1977.)
Now, on with the annotated countdown of the Top 56 songs of 1977, as compiled by WIND in Chicago.
24. “Lonely Boy”/Andrew Gold. A lot of baby boomers blame their parents for stuff their parents don’t even—or can’t even—know they did. “Lonely Boy” may be the single greatest artifact of this runaway narcissism.
23. “Theme from Rocky”/Bill Conti. I once called the vocal line on this record “stiff and white and weird.” Could probably apply to the whole thing.
22. “That’s Rock and Roll”/Shaun Cassidy. One Saturday on my radio station’s Facebook page, I posted a picture of Shaun Cassidy nipped from an old local radio survey the week he played a concert here in 1977, and asked the question, “Were any of you there?” It became one of the most popular posts the station’s ever done.
21. “Nobody Does It Better”/Carly Simon. Has gone further down the memory hole than almost every song on this survey. You just don’t hear it anywhere anymore.
20. “Fly Like An Eagle”/Steve Miller Band. Discuss: “Fly Like an Eagle” is a better record with the “Space Intro” included, but “Jet Airliner” is better without its electronic intro, “Threshold.”
19. “Theme From A Star Is Born”/Barbra Streisand. Like lovely snowflakes falling.
18. “Do You Wanna Make Love”/Peter McCann. McCann’s career was pretty much made by one song—“Right Time of the Night” by Jennifer Warnes, a songwriting credit that got McCann his own record deal, which resulted in a single that made WIND’s best-of-77 where the superior “Right Time” didn’t.
17. “Dancing Queen”/ABBA. This song was #1 on the Hot 100 for only a week, but 100 years from now, it’s likely to be the only song from 1977 anybody remembers.
16. “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer. The high-pitched emoting of “When I Need You” is the best thing Leo Sayer ever did by many miles, tiptoeing right up to the edge of too much without going over. But maybe just for me.
15. “Weekend in New England”/Barry Manilow. [listens and remembers something] [long pause] Mmmmm . . . . I’m sorry, you were saying?
14. “Higher and Higher”/Rita Coolidge. It was a Chicago radio thing for DJs to occasionally talk after playing a jingle. I maintain that a DJ could justifiably talk after Rita’s cold opening on this record, although I’ve never done it myself.
13. “Best of My Love”/Emotions. Sounds better to me now than it did then.
12. “Southern Nights”/Glen Campbell. As I hoped for David Bowie after his death, I hope Glen Campbell had some inkling, while he was alive, of just how beloved he was.
11. “Da Doo Ron Ron”/Shaun Cassidy. In one of the very first posts at this blog back in 2004, I told the world how much I like this record, and I still do.
10. “Rich Girl”/Hall and Oates. What I am pretty sure is the most-commented-upon post in the history of this blog, back in 2012, was inspired in part by the reluctance of certain radio stations to air the word “bitch” in “Rich Girl.”
9./8. “Sir Duke”/Stevie Wonder and “The Things We Do for Love”/10cc. What has made these records enjoyable for 40 years is their 180-proof, no-apologies joyfulness.
7. “Torn Between Two Lovers”/Mary Macgregor. Even 40 years ago, there was a sense of “This is one of the top songs in the country? This? Really?”
6. “Star Wars Theme-Cantina Band”/Meco. This is the only part of the Star Wars universe I have ever been interested in.
5. “Blinded by the Light”/Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. This song frequently reminds me of a frozen, pre-dawn Saturday morning bus ride to a high-school wrestling tournament I didn’t want to attend, knowing it would be 18 hours before we got home.
4. “Hot Line”/Sylvers. A monster in Chicago. I don’t know where WIND ranked it during its chart run, but WLS had it at #1 for two weeks in February.
3. “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”/Andy Gibb. Not just four weeks at #1 and four months in the Top 10, but nine straight weeks in the top three of the Hot 100.
2. “Undercover Angel”/Alan O’Day. O’Day wrote three of the 1970s’ biggest love-it-or-hate-it hits: “Undercover Angel,” the Righteous Brothers’ “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby,” as well as Cher’s fabulous “Train of Thought.”
1. “You Light Up My Life”/Debby Boone. Inevitable.
I wrote this post last December, intending to put it up around New Year’s, but I never did. I can’t remember why now, as it doesn’t seem to suck any more than the usual run of stuff around here. Hope you enjoyed it.
(Pictured: David Soul in Starsky and Hutch, 1977.)
At the end of 2017, I wrote a two-part post recapping the Top 56 songs of 1977 from WIND in Chicago, and then, for some reason, decided not to run it. I looked at it again the other day and I couldn’t remember why I decided not to run it, so I’m gonna run it now.
56. “You’re My World”/Helen Reddy. Does a remarkable job of conjuring up that summer, but maybe just for me.
55. “We’re All Alone”/Rita Coolidge. I prefer this to the Boz Scaggs original. It just seems to work better when sung by a woman, but maybe just for me.
54. “Barracuda”/Heart. Your AM radio was rockin’ hard all summer long, and not only because of this.
53. “On and On”/Stephen Bishop. “Poor old Jimmy sits alone in the moonlight / Saw his woman kiss another man.” This sort of happened to your poor old correspondent in 1977, but the details I take to the grave.
52. “Just Remember I Love You”/Firefall. You can say it, but that won’t necessarily make it true.
51./50. “You and Me”/Alice Cooper and “Knowing Me, Knowing You”/ABBA. Snapshots from the comfortable middle of the relationship, and the bitter end.
49. “This Song”/George Harrison. Will say again: Thirty-Three and 1/3 is in my Top 5 albums of all time. Maybe Top 3.
48. “You Don’t Have to Be a Star”/Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. A perfect production by Don Davis, a titan of the Detroit music scene. He should be a lot better known than he is. Look him up.
47. “Couldn’t Get It Right”/Climax Blues Band. I read not long ago that this song was the last thing recorded for the album Gold Plated because the record company didn’t hear a hit single, so the band set out to write one.
46. “Come Sail Away”/Styx. If this hadn’t straddled the 1977 and 1978 chart years, it would have been the runaway #1 song of the year in Chicago in either one year or the other. It was in heavy rotations for months.
45. “She Did It”/Eric Carmen. Honk if you remember this record at all. Hello?
44. “Ariel”/Dean Friedman. The way Friedman bends the line “we made love to bombs bursting in air” into the word “Ariel” pleases me greatly, still.
43. “Dreams”/Fleetwood Mac. There has never been anything else that sounds like this.
42. “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”/Crystal Gayle. I said all I could think of about this song back in September.
41. “Handy Man”/James Taylor. He fixes broken hearts, but he doesn’t sound all that happy about it.
40. “Lido Shuffle”/Boz Scaggs. Whenever Boz plays it live (and I’ve heard it four times), it leaves a smoking hole where the theater used to be.
39. “Feels Like the First Time”/Foreigner. Sounds a bit like it was focus-grouped into existence, designed to appeal to AM kids and their older FM siblings, but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
38. “Don’t Leave Me This Way”/Thelma Houston. Somebody I was reading recently picked this as their #1 song of 1977, and you could do worse.
37. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart. If I were picking my personal #1 song of 1977, this could be it, and I’d have trouble doing better.
36. “Swayin’ to the Music”/Johnny Rivers. You wouldn’t mind living the scenario in this song, and neither would I.
35. “I’m in You”/Peter Frampton. Poor guy, having to follow Frampton Comes Alive.
34. “I Feel Love”/Donna Summer. I did not care much for Donna Summer when her hits were on the radio. But I’m older now, and wiser.
33. “Looks Like We Made It”/Barry Manilow. Be careful with broad romantic pronouncements, my dude. Sometimes they are premature.
32. “I’m Your Boogie Man”/KC and the Sunshine Band. I have a vinyl KC greatest-hits album on which this is segued into “Keep It Comin’ Love,” and it is awesome.
31. “Stand Tall”/Burton Cummings. [listens and remembers something] [long pause] Mmmmm . . . . I’m sorry, you were saying?
30. “Hotel California”/Eagles. Will say again: if you’re tired of this song and never want to hear it again, I understand. But I’m not there yet.
29./28. “After the Lovin'”/Engelbert Humperdinck and “You Made Me Believe in Magic”/Bay City Rollers. After, and also during, and also before if you want me to be honest about it.
27. “New Kid in Town”/Eagles. I said all I could think of about this song in February of ’17.
26. “Keep it Comin’ Love”/KC and the Sunshine Band. See #32.
25. “Don’t Give Up on Us”/David Soul. A program director once criticized me for calling this record “sappy” on the air. I can see his point, but I’m pretty sure even people who like it think it’s sappy.
We’ll cover the top 24 in a later installment, whenever I get around to it.
(Pictured: Marilyn McCoo fronts the Fifth Dimension, 1972.)
The American Top 40 show from March 3, 1973, was a recent weekend repeat. Since I am doing an ongoing series this year about 1973 (basic theme: “just what was it about that year, anyhow?”), here are some notes:
40. “Soul Song”/Joe Stampley. For a handful of years in the middle of the 1970s, Joe Stampley was a fixture on the country charts. He’d hit #1 on the country chart three times between 1973 and 1976, most famously with “Roll on Big Mama” in 1975. “Soul Song” had gone to #1 in January and would manage to squeak to #37 on the Hot 100. His country twang, which is not all that soulful, made for a big ol’ train wreck with the next song in the countdown.
39. “Good Morning Heartache”/Diana Ross. A torchy, jazzy number from Lady Sings the Blues, in which Miss Ross gets her Billie Holiday on.
37. “Living Together, Growing Together”/Fifth Dimension. This marks a historic moment: the final Top 40 week in the career of the Fifth Dimension, a group responsible for a number of straight-up classics over the preceding six years, including “Up Up and Away,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” and “Aquarius,” along with the less-classic-but-still-mighty-good “One Less Bell to Answer” and “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All.” The Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “Living Together, Growing Together” is not a classic; it’s bland inspirational cheese that makes the Johnny Mann Singers sound like James Brown. (See below.)
32. “Give Me Your Love”/Barbara Mason. It doesn’t happen often, but I occasionally hear a song on these AT40 repeats that I can’t recall hearing before. “Give Me Your Love” is one of them. It would eventually peak at #31, Mason’s biggest hit since “Yes I’m Ready” in 1965. If it wasn’t remixed or re-released in the disco era, it should have been; the ingredients are in the test tube.
27. “I Got Ants in My Pants (And I Want to Dance)/James Brown. One of the all-time-great Casey introductions: “Here’s a man whose music is as recognizable as Lawrence Welk. A-one, two, three”—after which the JBs come in on the fourth beat and the joint starts jammin’.
25. “Why Can’t We Live Together”/Timmy Thomas. In 2003, Steve Winwood covered “Why Can’t We Live Together” on his album About Time, and it’s fabulous.
22. “Break Up to Make Up”/Stylistics. The highest-debuting song on the 40 this week, zooming in from #42 the week before, another ridiculously beautiful Thom Bell production.
16. “Jambalaya”/Blue Ridge Rangers and 14. “Do It Again”/Steely Dan. In what universe does something as sonically and lyrically obtuse as “Do It Again” belong in the same quarter-hour of radio with a Louisiana hoo-rah sung in John Fogerty’s screechy twang? And it’s not just that they clash with each other. Each record sounds out of place compared to most of what surrounds them (see also #8, “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Deodato, and #2, “Dueling Banjos,” by Weissberg and Mandel). I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but still.
15. “Oh Babe What Would You Say”/Hurricane Smith. This show is from the week I turned 13. I had already noticed the interesting ways in which certain girls were becoming curvy and/or bumpy, and the physical processes that happen to 13-year-old boys were beginning to happen to me. But I was not like some of my male classmates, who were obsessed with girls at the grossest and most physical levels, and who talked about it all the time. I probably engaged in those conversations with the guys sometimes, even though I couldn’t really imagine the physical part of love happening to me just then. Like Hurricane Smith, what I wanted for the most part was simply the opportunity to make some pretty girl happy. But I kept that to myself.
10. “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend”/Lobo and 3. “Last Song”/Edward Bear. Enough with the songs about unrequited love already.
1 “Killing Me Softly With His Song”/Roberta Flack. Casey says that Roberta Flack is the first female artist to hit #1 with back-to-back releases since Connie Francis and Brenda Lee in 1960, which is a pretty good piece of trivia.
During the previous week’s show, Casey and the AT40 staff predicted that “Killing Me Softly” would hold at #1 this week. They make the same prediction this week, and they will be right again. The song will eventually spend six weeks at #1, and it will be over three years—not until Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” at the end of 1976—before another record stays at the top as long.