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.
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.
(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. . . .
My Internet friend Gary pointed me to something fabulous recently: American Radio History, which has been collecting and digitizing various radio-related magazines for several years, has recently put up its Billboard collection. Approximately 90 percent of the entire run of the magazine from 1942 through 2009 is available. This is a vast improvement over what’s been available at Google Books for a few years, and I expect we’ll dip into it quite often around here.
I do not mean for this blog to be all-50-years-ago all-the-time, but I decided that a good place to start with the Billboard archive was with the edition dated May 9, 1965. What follows are some observations as I page through.
Page 3: The brief review of the recent TV special My Name is Barbra, starring Barbra Streisand, is headlined “A New TV Star Is Born.” Yes indeed.
Page 8: Record dealers complain that a lack of standardization is hurting their business. A Washington, D.C., store owner complains, “I have to stock 150 types of needles just for the record players I sell. Can you imagine how a housewife would fuss if she had to buy that many different types of lightbulbs?”
Page 10: KHJ in Los Angeles has previewed its new format, to be known as “Boss Radio,” which will launch officially on May 3. (The issue date of Billboard was a bit ahead of the calendar. This means, of course, that if I say such-and-such a song was #1 in Billboard on such-and-such a date, it’s the date on the magazine’s cover and not the date the magazine came out or the date on which the Hot 100 was compiled, a fact that could lead me into a full-blown existential crisis if I let it, so la la la la na na na na not listening.)
Page 14: Brian Epstein estimates the Beatles will make a million dollars on their upcoming American tour, their second. The article says Epstein booked the band for two nights at the Hollywood Bowl instead of a single night at the Rose Bowl, which could have attracted 100,000 fans.
Page 22: “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits tops the Hot 100 for a second week. The highest-debuting new song on the Hot 100 is “Last Chance to Turn Around” by Gene Pitney at #73. (The song is known by many as “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” but that’s not its official title.) An additional 35 songs are shown on the Bubbling Under chart. They include “Gloria” by Them (#113), “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds (#114), and “For Your Love” by the Yardbirds (#116).
Page 24: The Mary Poppins soundtrack tops the album chart again. Soundtracks from The Sound of Music, Goldfinger, and My Fair Lady are also in the Top 10. The original Broadway cast album from My Fair Lady is at #36 in its 444th week on the album chart. (Not a typo.) Also ranking high are the original cast album from Fiddler on the Roof (#15) and the Elvis album Girl Happy, from his current movie (#25). The chart lists 150 albums in all. At #150, in its first week on, is Come Share My Life by Glenn Yarbrough.
Page 32: The Hot Country Singles chart contains a couple of future classics: “King of the Road” by Roger Miller at #3 and “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” by Buck Owens at #11.
Page 34: An article about radio in Denver notes that station KIMN has an “ultramodern, all-electronic newsroom which enables one man on duty to handle the work of several.” That said, however, the station also has five news vehicles equipped with two-way radios.
Page 37: The singles reviews section notes a new record by the Four Tops, “a spirited, fast-paced wailer performed in their unique style.” It’s called “I Can’t Help Myself.”
Tune in for future installments of this. It could happen.
(Pictured: a family—not mine—in the middle of the 1960s.)
In the early 1950s, as track athletes came closer and closer to breaking the four-minute mile, some people wondered if it could be done, or did the mark represent a barrier human beings were physiologically unable to surmount? Such talk was misbegotten, though. The concepts of “four minutes” and “one mile” are arbitrary numbers on independent scales. If writers in 1954 had framed the question as “can a human being run 5,280 feet in 240 seconds,” it would have had no allure at all. The neat symmetry of “four minutes” and “one mile” made all the difference.
I have been thinking about the arbitrary nature of numbers recently as the avalanche of 50th anniversaries from the 1960s continues. So many significant events: from “I Have a Dream” to the Kennedy assassination to Beatlemania to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to the election of LBJ to the march on Selma to the personal ones I blogged about in March and April to the many more still to come (the first teach-ins, Dylan goes electric, passage of Medicare and the Voting Rights Act, the Watts riots, and that takes us only through the summer).
Fifty is just a number—no more intrinsically significant than 49 or 51—but because we live in a base-10 world, we endow it with special characteristics. And so these 50th anniversaries resonate strongly with us. Fifty is important too because of what it represents in the human lifespan. Fifty years is enough to pass from young to old, from mature to elderly. Those of us who can claim to have lived through 50 years know that it brings changes unimaginable by one end from the other. But so do 49 and 51.
Fifty years is useful to us as an aesthetically pleasing mirror that shows where we’ve gone, its corners more nicely rounded than 49 or 51.
Fifty years ago this week, the Beatles were #1 at WOKY in Milwaukee, as they had been so often in 1964. “Ticket to Ride” is different from those moptop-shaking pop songs of ’64, however, pointing in a direction that seems logical and inevitable to us now, but certainly did not seem so then. The Rolling Stones have birthed their first monster riff on “The Last Time,” but in a few weeks will unleash another, more iconic one on “Satisfaction.” The Moody Blues are a pop group on “Go Now,” but they could not have imagined then that 50 years in the future they might still be trading on the name, playing a sort of pop music unimaginable in 1965. Herman’s Hermits, Petula Clark, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Dave Clark Five, Peter and Gordon, the Searchers, the Zombies—it’s no wonder people thought the Sir Douglas Quintet was British, because everybody else was.
“Wooly Bully,” “Help Me Rhonda,” the Supremes’ “Back in My Arms Again,” “It’s Not Unusual” by Tom Jones—we occasionally have to remind ourselves that these, too, were once current hits, new on some music director’s desk, jockeying for position on the radio and the record charts like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry today, because now they’re as elemental as the sun and the air. That’s because for us—children of the baby boom and slightly later—they always have been.
(Pictured: How I remember my 16th birthday. There was cake, but the rest of it is hazy.)
Sooner or later, this blog always comes back to 1976. A couple of weekends ago, AT40 repeated the show from February 28, 1976—the week of my 16th birthday—and I’ve been listening to it in the car this week.
I remember coming down for breakfast on February 29th—a Sunday—and hearing my mother say, in the gently mocking tone she occasionally took with us when we were kids, “There’s Jim, sweet 16 and never been kissed.” I didn’t think she was particularly funny, however. I had been kissed by then, although not often enough to suit me, and not by anyone recently.
Mom would always make us a cake for our birthdays, or something other than a cake if we wanted it; one year she made me a fabulous chocolate pudding dessert with graham-cracker crust, and I think we put candles on a pizza for one of my brothers once. We were usually photographed holding our cakes, standing in the same general spot in the dining room every year, so a picture was probably taken that day. Birthday custom also permitted us to either request a favorite meal at home or to go out someplace to eat. I seem to recall that I chose dinner (which would have been the noon meal back then) at a little hole-in-the-wall pizza joint on the edge of town.
During the very week of my birthday—starting on Thursday and continuing through the next weekend—we’d experience an epic ice storm that remains one of my most vivid memories of growing up. But the Sunday of that week is mostly blank.
The February 28, 1976, edition of AT40 doesn’t help much. In fact, the show isn’t particularly memorable at all. It gets off to a slow start, with five songs in a row that were all relatively new, none of which became a significant hit then or is especially memorable now. The first hour ends with a backward-looking streak: the Salsoul Orchestra’s disco version of the 1942 Jimmy Dorsey hit “Tangerine,” Tony Orlando and Dawn covering Sam Cooke’s “Cupid,” the Beach Boys’ 1966 hit “Good Vibrations” as an extra, and Dr. Hook’s cover of Cooke’s “Only Sixteen.” Hour #2 starts better, with Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” ELO’s “Evil Woman” (heard in its rare 45 edit with what I think is an extra snip by the AT40 engineer) and Linda Ronstadt’s cover of “Tracks of My Tears.” That’s followed by one of my favorite AT40 train wrecks, Foghat’s “Slow Ride” followed by Donny and Marie’s “Deep Purple.” Casey breaks them up with an anecdote about record mogul Mike Curb, noting that Curb can identify “all of the chart hits of the last 20 years by artist and record label.” Up at #21, listeners are once again forced to sit through the CB-themed novelty “The White Knight” by Cledus Maggard. (Everyone has some shameful things in their past that defy explanation, and the popularity of “The White Knight” is one of America’s.) At #15, Casey spends a minute or two sketching the career of singer/actor Al Jolson while introducing the disco version of “Baby Face,” a song first published in 1926 and made famous by Jolson in the early 30s. As always, the hits get bigger as the numbers get smaller. Some of the songs in the Top 10—“All By Myself,” “Dream Weaver,” “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”—are still capable of snapping me back to the ice storm, but not the Sunday before.
I suppose that the lesson is this: not everything we’d like to consider a totem is really a totem. Not every artifact is sacred. I’d like the AT40 show from my 16th birthday, back there in the year that means more than all the others, to be one of the treasures in the museum of my personal history. But it’s not going to be. Some things are just amusing old junk.