(Pictured: “Oh, God, there’s that idiot with the Leo Sayer record again.”)
As time passes, we learn new things, we gain new perspectives, and we sometimes find that what we once believed isn’t quite true. So we recalibrate what we once believed, in hopes of being wiser in times to come. It’s what most intelligent people do (except for some intransigent political creatures who equate virtue with believing in the same things you believed 10 or 30 or 50 or 500 years ago, even in the face of evidence to the contrary).
American Top 40 recently repeated the show from July 21, 1979, the very same week that inspired a 2011 post I wrote called “Summer of Schlock”, but I am finding it not quite so schlocky another time around.
(Pictured: young Boz, 1974.)
The ARSA database of radio station music surveys shows 21 songs by Boz Scaggs charted by at least one station between 1969 and 1988. Eight of those were charted on less than 10 surveys (four on only one). That leaves 13 singles to get airplay on more than 10, and here they are in order by number of surveys, least to most.
“Near You” (1971), 12 surveys. From the album Moments, “Near You” is the Silk Degrees sound in the test tube. (Highest chart position reached: #18, KGY, Olympia, WA, 7/9/71)
“Dinah Flo” (1972), 19 surveys. From My Time, part of which was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and produced by Boz himself (including “Dinah Flo”), and part of which was recorded at CBS in San Francisco and produced by Roy Halee, famed for his work with Simon and Garfunkel. (Highest chart position reached: #7, KISN, Vancouver, WA, 11/8/72)
“Hard Times” (1977) 28 surveys. From Down Two Then Left, the album in the unenviable position of following Silk Degrees. “Hard Times” is one of the funkiest joints Boz ever recorded. (Highest chart position reached: #11, KYNO, Fresno, CA, 11/9/77 and 11/16/77)
“Heart of Mine” (1988) 31 surveys. Infinitely forgettable, straight off the late 80s adult-contemporary template and the album Other Roads. (Highest chart position reached: #8, WKTI, Milwaukee, WI, 6/10, 6/17, and 6/24/88)
“It’s Over” (1976), 32 surveys. Everybody forgets that this was the first single from Silk Degrees. Would likely have charted higher if it had followed “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” since it’s halfway between them aesthetically. (Highest chart position reached: #4, WIXY, Cleveland, OH, 6/4/76 and KFXM, San Bernardino, CA, 6/11 and 6/18/760
“What Can I Say” (1976), 41 surveys. A question I am asking myself right now. It’s a good song overshadowed by better songs on a great album. (Highest chart position reached: #10, KYNO, Fresno, CA, 2/2/77)
“We Were Always Sweethearts” (1971), 78 surveys. Ranking songs by the number of surveys is highly unscientific. There are many, many more surveys from the 60s and 70s than from the 80s (which probably pushes “Heart of Mine” down the list some). Also, a couple of stations that played “We Were Always Sweethearts” for a long time have extensive collections of surveys at ARSA, which pushes up the number. It’s a good song, though. See Boz and his soul patch perform it live in 1971 here. (Highest chart position reached: #5, KFRC, San Francisco, 4/5/71)
“Miss Sun” (1980), 100 surveys. Four of Boz’s most-charted hits were released in 1980. Two were on his album Middle Man, and two more, “Miss Sun” and “Look What You’ve Done to Me,” showed up on the weirdly programmed compilation Hits! The production on “Miss Sun” sounds pretty dated, but the bangin’ electric piano and Lisa Dal Bello’s ultra-funky vocal line make up for it. (Highest chart position reached: #3, KSTT, Davenport, IA, 1/19/81 and KOUR, Independence, IA, 2/9/81)
“Breakdown Dead Ahead” (1980), 116 surveys. The hardest-rockin’ thing Boz ever did. If you don’t dig it, well, you know what I always say. (Highest chart position reached: #2, CHUM, Toronto, ON, 5/24/80)
“Look What You’ve Done to Me” (1980), 131 surveys. I adored “Look What You’ve Done to Me” back in the day. Today it still sounds pretty, but it’s got less emotional depth than a half-dozen other Boz ballads I could name. (Highest chart position reached: #3, WHB, Kansas City, MO, 10/21/80)
“Jojo” (1980), 146 surveys. Of all the songs Boz did at his concert last Sunday night, this was the one that surprised me most. It’s got an effective hook, but it’s even more shallow than “Look What You’ve Done to Me.” (Highest chart position reached: #1, KZZP, Mesa AZ, 7/30/80)
“Lido Shuffle” (1977), 205 surveys. I suspect this is more beloved than “Lowdown” among Boz fans today, as its position as a show-closer or encore would suggest. The synthesizer on it dates it to the middle of the 1970s, but Boz’s keyboard player replicated it on Sunday night, because of course he did. (Highest chart position reached: #1, WYSL, Buffalo, NY, 5/9/77)
“Lowdown” (1976), 264 surveys. It’s great to make a record everyone loves, but it has to get tiresome playing it every night. After 20 years of playing “Lowdown,” Boz recorded an unplugged version of “Lowdown” that was first released only in Japan. It appeared in the States in 2005 on Fade Into Light, a collection of reworked songs from Silk Degrees, Middle Man, and Some Change, an album I highly recommend. (Highest chart position reached: #1, WAVZ, New Haven, CT, 9/19 and 9/26/76; WMLP, Milton, PA, 9/20/76; WDRC, Hartford, CT, 10/1,10/8, and 10/15/76; WFAA, Dallas, TX, 10/1/76; KFMD, Dubuque, IA, 10/8/76; WGAR, Cleveland, OH, 10/13/76)
As said earlier this week in my post about his concert, Boz Scaggs is making the best music of his career right now, with practically no radio play at all. But as this list indicates, Radio Boz was mighty good Boz, too.
(Pictured: Rick Springfield, dressed to appear on a 1974 Australian telethon for blindness prevention. Sometimes the jokes write themselves.)
For a music and radio geek, there’s no more reliable source of entertainment than ARSA, the Airheads Radio Survey Archive. It’s raw material for the history of popular music, the history of American radio, and in a sense, the history of America itself, from the 50s to the new millennium. While entertaining myself the other day, I found five interesting oddballs to share with you.
(Pictured: the Hues Corporation.)
In the summer of 1974, Casey Kasem landed a guest role on Hawaii Five-O, playing a crooked furniture store owner. American Top 40 was preparing its annual summer special (“The Top 40 Singles Artists of the 1970s”) for the weekend of July 6th, which could be recorded far in advance, and Casey had already arranged for Humble Harve Miller to fill in for him on the weekend of the 13th. But Casey’s shooting schedule required him to be in Hawaii in late June—which would interfere with the recording schedule for the show airing on June 29th. The new Billboard Hot 100 wouldn’t be available in time. So the AT40 staff made a fateful decision. Instead of rounding up yet another substitute host, they would estimate the chart positions for the week of June 29th and count down that chart instead. They didn’t make a big deal about it. They presented the songs just as if Billboard had placed them, with only a disclaimer at the end saying that the chart was based on staff estimates.
What follows is the chart Casey counted down that weekend, with the actual Hot 100 position in parentheses and various random observations.
(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.
(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
71. “The Pretender”/Jackson Browne
73. “Back in the Saddle”/Aerosmith
74. “Solsbury Hill”/Peter Gabriel
83. “Burnin’ Sky”/Bad Company
86. “Just a Song Before I Go”/Crosby Stills and Nash
96. “Ridin’ the Storm Out”/REO Speedwagon
A pretty good mixtape, yes?