Category Archives: Record Charts

A Happening Thing

(Pictured: the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, 1967.)

As we make our way through the 50th anniversary of 1967, looking back at the Billboard Hot 100 week by week is a mind-blowing experience: so many songs that remain imprinted on our DNA, so many acts that define what pop and rock music means to us, all appearing in what was then real time. The chart dated March 11, 1967, is almost too much to take in: “Ruby Tuesday,” “Kind of a Drag,” “Penny Lane,” “Happy Together,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “The Beat Goes On,” “I’m a Believer,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and others. You know them all.  Some notes follow:

—There’s remarkable volatility on the chart, at least by pre-Soundscan standards. “Penny Lane” jumps from #36 to #5 and “Strawberry Fields Forever” enters the Top 40 at #16 from #45 the week before. “Happy Together” leaps to #8 from #21, and “Dedicated to the One I Love” by the Mamas and the Papas hits #10 from #26.

—Amidst the rock classics, middle-of-the-road pop continues to make a stand as Ed Ames’ “My Cup Runneth Over” moves into the Top 10. It’s a love song of remarkable power and poignancy, as we’ve noted before. Also among the Top 60 this week: Frankie Laine, Tom Jones (with the classic “Green Green Grass of Home”), Al Martino, Jack Jones, and Petula Clark.

—The Royal Guardsmen had spent four weeks at #2 in January with “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. ” They had sent a copy of the record to Charles Schulz hoping to get his blessing. According to group member Barry Winslow, Schulz’s lawyers suggested the record be renamed “Squeaky vs. the Black Knight.” Eventually, the Guardsmen got official permission to use the Snoopy character, in exchange for “a pretty healthy chunk of money.” Fifty years ago this week, “Return of the Red Baron” blasts into the Top 40 on its way to #15. Two more Snoopy-themed hits will follow. At the end of 1967, “Snoopy’s Christmas” will become one of the most successful holiday novelties ever. “Snoopy for President” will stall at #85 in the summer of ’68.

—“I Never Loved a Man” by Aretha Franklin is in its second week on the chart, moving from #80 to #52. It was the only song finished during Aretha’s January session at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals—which dissolved into chaos thanks to a racially charged dispute between Franklin’s husband/manager and some of the session musicians.

—The chart is studded with other classic soul performances: “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” by Wilson Pickett, “It Takes Two” by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” by Sam and Dave, the Four Tops’ “Bernadette,” “Jimmy Mack” by Martha and the Vandellas, Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music,” and James Carr’s “The Dark End of the Street.” Also appearing: Jerry Butler, Freddie Scott, Solomon Burke, James Brown, Joe Tex, Jackie Wilson, Percy Sledge, Eddie Floyd, and Bo Diddley.

—Heads tuned to psychedelic rock can dig “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night,” “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet,” and “It’s a Happening Thing” by the Peanut Butter Conspiracy this week. There are also plenty of pop songs sprinkled with trippy fairy dust: among them “Happy Together,” “Pretty Ballerina,” “98.6,” “Mairzy Doats” by the Innocence, and “That Acapulco Gold” by the Rainy Daze, whose chemical inspiration is right in the title.

—Besides “Kind of a Drag” at #2, the Buckinghams also score with “Laudy Miss Claudy” (badly misspelled by Billboard) at #98 and “Don’t You Care” at #100. “Kind of a Drag” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” were released on the Buckinghams’ original label, Chicago-based USA. “Don’t You Care” was the first release after the Buckinghams’ new deal with producer James William Guercio and Columbia Records, and it would blow “Clawdy” away, getting to #6 while “Clawdy” made only #41—although the fact that “Don’t You Care” is miles better had something to do with it too.

—Let’s find a reason to mention “Western Union” by the Five Americans (#58) and the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” (#61).

We have occasionally noted the phenomenon of a great chart loaded with classic hits that ends up topped by a song that is neither great nor classic. The week of March 11, 1967, is one of those. “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone” would be the weakest #1 song in the Supremes catalog if it wasn’t for “The Happening” later in 1967. But the songs behind it are so insanely great that it doesn’t matter.

(Promotional announcement: One Day in Your Life is now its own blog, mostly repeating posts that have previously appeared here—but this past week I wrote a brand-new one, so please go and read it.)

Wake Up, Mr. Radio

(Pictured: Al Jarreau on stage, 1985.)

For several years in the early 80s, I kept my own personally ranked lists of the best songs of each year. I went looking for them the other day and was disappointed to find only the one for 1983. I wrote it up as an annotated countdown, although I’m not including all of the annotations. It includes 27 songs because of course it does.

27.  “Two Less Lonely People”/Air Supply. Air Supply’s last gasp of innocent sweetness before hooking up with Jim “Try It Again, You’re Not Screaming Loud Enough” Steinman.

26.  “Don’t Run”/KC and the Sunshine Band
25.  “Penny for Your Thoughts”/Tavares. This isn’t as good as “It Only Takes a Minute” or “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel,” but possesses enough hypnotic soft soul to merit inclusion.

24.  “Islands in the Stream”/Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton. The most burnt-out record of 1983, and one of two records I added totally out-of-the-box at KDTH this year. I predicted it would be #1 the first time I heard it.

23.  “Delirious”/Prince
22.  “Stop in the Name of Love”/Hollies
21.  “Promises Promises”/Naked Eyes
20.  “I’m Still Standing”/Elton John
19.  “Tokyo Joe”/Bertie Higgins. This guy is trying so hard to write and record a song that will be remembered as a classic in 50 years that he gets carried away with silliness sometimes, but this record is a good example of something that will sell to people who have never been more than 50 miles away from where they were born. (Rarely does the young asshole I used to be come back to me so vividly, and in my own words. This is a remarkably stupid and bad and nonsensical remark, and never mind the inclusion of this godawful record on the list for some reason I can no longer remember.)

18.  “Take the Short Way Home”/Dionne Warwick. If we can’t have the Bee Gees, Lord, then let us have records like this. (That’s a distinction without a difference, sonny.)

17.  “Spice of Life”/Manhattan Transfer
16.  “Time (Clock of the Heart)”/Culture Club
15.  “Break My Stride”/Matthew Wilder. It’s like Men at Work meets somebody—but I don’t know who.

14.  “Every Breath You Take”/Police. They can quit now. They’ll never top this. From the writing to the performing to the production—this is perfect.

13.  “Try Again”/Champaign
12.  “Suddenly Last Summer”/Motels. Quite intelligent for a band some call “modern.” “Modern rock” is a red flag to me, which signals “beware—three-chord techno-pop stupidity ahead.” (Lo, the disdainful, ill-informed older brother of the MTV generation is heard from.)

11.  “True”/Spandau Ballet. Another record defying its “modern rock” label. The last minute or two of this are the best musical minutes of the year.

10. “Come Dancing”/Kinks. If anyone is qualified to reminisce, these old geezers are. Includes one of the hardest gee-tar solo breaks this side of Quiet Riot, who, you shall note, are absent from this survey. (“Geezers.” Christ.)

9.  “All This Love”/DeBarge. Well, maybe they do make ’em like they used to.

8.  “Come on Eileen”/Dexy’s Midnight Runners. I never thought his would make it, not in a million years.

7.  “Our House”/Madness
6.  “Heart and Soul”/Huey Lewis and the News
5.  “(Keep Feeling) Fascination”/Human League. The only song on the best of ’83 list that I first heard/saw on MTV. So much better than “Don’t You Want Me.”

4.  “Billie Jean”/Michael Jackson. Frighteningly good. If I really have to die, I want to hear a record so good it kills me. I damn near bit the weenie with this one. An epic. On Epic, even. (Oh, shut up, Jim.)

3.  “Electric Avenue”/Eddy Grant. There are some sounds on this that I’ve never heard anywhere before. A great record for annoying the neighbors.

2.  “Jeopardy”/Greg Kihn. Another great record for annoying the neighbors. Made me keep believing in rock and roll when Thomas Dolby was in the Top 10, woof woof.

1.  “Mornin'”/Al Jarreau. Jarreau never seems to take himself too seriously (how could you with a line like “mornin’, little Cheerios”?), the music jumps right out of the radio, it’s bright, happy, funky, and sweet. I liked it a little, yeah.

Oddly enough, I played “Mornin'” on the radio the day after Al Jarreau died, only to find this list, with “Mornin'” on top of it, three days later. I wouldn’t rank it as the best song of 1983 if I were ranking them now. It’s far more likely that #1 would be “Billie Jean,” “Jeopardy,” “Electric Avenue,” “Come Dancing,” or even “All This Love.”

As for the young man who ranked these songs, he was a work in progress who’s somewhat wiser now, thank the gods.

Hopeless Romantics, Here We Go Again

(Pictured: the Eagles, circa 1977.)

A few years ago some Internet site I was reading suggested that your life’s theme song is the one that was #1 on your 18th birthday. But there is no goddamn way I’m accepting “Love Is Thicker Than Water” by Andy Gibb. I would, however, take the #1 song on my 17th birthday: “New Kid in Town” by the Eagles, which hit the top 40 years ago this weekend, on February 26, 1977.

“New Kid in Town” crashed into the Billboard Hot 100 at #48 during the week of December 18, 1976, although its first appearance at ARSA is on a survey from KHJ in Los Angeles dated November 30. During Christmas week, it zoomed to #20, where it remained a second week during Billboard‘s annual holiday chart freeze. The holiday seems to have slowed its momentum a little; it went 16-12-7-6-4-2-2 before hitting the top at the end of February. It didn’t stick around long after its single week at the top, going back to #2, then 14-27-51 (during the week of March 26) and out.

The hit music from the winter of 1977 is to me a wondrous thing, as I have written before. It’s the soundtrack of being in love for the first time (with somebody who loved me back), and every song is a snapshot pulling me vividly back to those days. She likes ABBA, and I like “Dancing Queen” because she likes “Dancing Queen.” Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” comes on the console stereo in her living room as we play board games at the nearby kitchen table. Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” will eternally put me in the front seat of her car, the radio blasting as we go on some Saturday afternoon adventure. And Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England” plays as we fall into each other’s arms on the couch in her basement. “Night Moves,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Evergreen,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” “Crackerbox Palace”—these and others will echo through my life and hers for decades to come, though in 1977, neither of us can yet comprehend so much time.

On the record chart, the seasons are always changing, and songs that we’ll identify with an awakening spring are new in the Top 40 during this still-winter week, including “So In To You” by the Atlanta Rhythm Section and “Right Time of the Night” by Jennifer Warnes. A future #1 song, the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” is new on the Hot 100 at #72. (Three weeks from now, “Hotel California” and “New Kid in Town” will essentially swap positions in the Top 40, the former jumping from #35 to #19, the latter falling from #14 to #27.) Also new on the Hot 100 during the week of February 26 is Leo Sayer’s “When I Need You,” another future #1 song. In a season when I am completely irrational about the songs I love—love beyond understanding that is impossible to explain in words—I may be the most irrational about “When I Need You.”

But back to “New Kid in Town.” Then and now, I dig the easy-rockin’ feel of it (one of the Eagles’ loveliest melodies and arrangements), it feeds my electric piano jones, and Glenn Frey sings beautifully.

What I thought of the words back then, I don’t know. Now, they seem remarkably sad: you’ve had your moment, when you’re the one everybody wants, but your moment will someday pass. “They will never forget you til somebody new comes along.” And before you’ve had the chance to adjust to your obsolescence, it becomes even more devastating. Somebody notices that “he’s holding her, and you’re still around.”

You’re still around? Why do you stay when you’re no longer wanted?

I have learned plenty about obsolescence and disappointment in 40 years. But I have also learned that the Eagles got a big thing wrong in “New Kid in Town”: you don’t have to forget, nor be forgotten, just because somebody new comes along. Not as long as the music that soundtracks your life never stops playing.

It’s Been So Long Since We Danced to Our Love Song

(Pictured: Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra, on stage.)

Forty-three years ago this week, “Love’s Theme” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra hit #1 on the Hot 100.

“Love’s Theme” first shows up at ARSA in mid-November 1973. A survey from WXUS in Lafayette, Indiana, dated November 24 shows that it was #1 in Lafayette the previous week. It hit #1 at the R&B formatted WLIB in New York City on November 30. It starts taking off nationwide in mid-December, debuting on WLS in Chicago on December 15, the same week it vaults into the Top 10 at WFIL in Philadelphia. On Christmas Eve, WABC in New York has it at #11. It’s mid-January before it starts racking up Top 10s everywhere. “Love’s Theme” is especially humongous at WQAM in Miami, where it blasts from #28 to #14 to #1 and stays there during the whole month of February. The station charts it until the end of May, and ranks it #2 for the entire year of 1974.

The eighth-grade boy of 13-going-on-14 who ran out to his local record store and bought “Love’s Theme” on a 45 sometime in January could not have articulated his reasons very well. The geezer he grew up to be can do a better job. The mere sound of the thing is remarkable: even out of the little speaker on the portable record player I used at the time, the one with the handle and the lid that snapped on, “Love’s Theme” sounded enormous. On big speakers, as on the console stereo in the family room, “Love’s Theme” is deep enough to swim in.

So let’s live-blog it, using the 45 version. Certain critical aspects of the extended metaphor that follows have been time-compressed in the name of creative license. (I hope for your sake they’re time-compressed.)

Continue reading →

Here, There, and Everywhere

(Normally I would post a vintage pic of an artist I mention in one of these posts. This is a 2016 shot of Emmylou Harris, who will turn 70 this spring and is absolutely stunning.)

Random radio surveys, random observations:

WOSH/Oshkosh, January 31, 1977: A few weekends ago, I posted an old WISM radio survey on Magic 98’s Facebook page and asked which song on the list people wanted to hear. “Living Next Door to Alice” by Smokie (#12 this week on WOSH) got the most requests. I have always had a soft spot for that song, partly because I have a soft spot for everything from the winter of 1977, but also because the main hook is a monster (“Oh, I don’t know why she’s leavin’ / Or where she’s gonna go”), and songs about unrequited love are eternally in my wheelhouse.

Some radio stations sent their surveys to the printer every week for an ultra-professional look. (See KAKC below.) Others simply had somebody type up the list of songs on a form and run off a few hundred on the office copier. The hand-typed ones occasionally yield extra entertainment, as on this WOSH survey, which lists the new Bee Gees hit “Boobie Child.”

Hey, Beavis, he said “boobie.”

(Late edit: commenter Tim, who was at WOSH in 1977, offers additional info on the survey printing and “Living Next Door to Alice” here.)

WAMS, Wilmington, DE, January 24, 1970: Here’s something you didn’t see much back in the day: a single debuting at #1. “How Can I Tell My Mom and Dad” is by the Lovelites, a trio of young women from a Chicago housing project. It’s about teen pregnancy, and not in an oblique way, including the line “he made me a mother-to-be,” which undoubtedly kept some stations away from it. The song made #60 on the Hot 100 in a 10-week run and did big business on the soul chart. In addition to its success in Wilmington, it was a Top-10 hit down I-95 in Baltimore and up I-95 in Philadelphia. I have not been able to determine why this song was such a rager in a relatively small geographical area.

WNTN, Newton, MA, January 22, 1984: Although WNTN identified as an R&B station, its survey includes “Talking in Your Sleep” by the Romantics and “99 Red Balloons” by Nena. The survey is topped by “Where Is My Man” by Eartha Kitt, famed for “Santa Baby” in the 50s and as one of the actresses who played Catwoman on Batman. It made the Top 10 of Billboard‘s dance chart.

WPIX, New York, January 22, 1976:  Emmylou Harris released two albums in 1975, Pieces of the Sky and Elite Hotel, each of which produced a pop-chart single. The great “If I Could Only Win Your Love” went to #58 in the early fall of 1975. Her cover of the Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere,” which will be the most beautiful thing you hear today, was on WPIX as an album cut, although it would eventually make #65 on the Hot 100. Emmylou Harris wouldn’t hit the pop charts again until 1980, although she was a fixture on the country charts from 1975 through 1984 or so.

KAKC, Tulsa, January 21, 1967: This is a really good-looking survey, nicely co-branded with Pepsi and listing at least 75 songs. While it was common to show both sides of a two-sided hit with the same chart number, as KAKC does with the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” and “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone,” KAKC does something I’ve never seen before. It lists two different versions of the same song with the same number: “There Goes My Everything” by both Don Cherry and Jack Greene at #25, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” by Jane Morgan and Lainie Kazan at #38, and “The Dis-Advantages of You” by the Brass Ring and the Answer as a Hitbound.

“The Dis-Advantages of You” is a song we’ve written about previously. It was originally used in an ad for Benson and Hedges cigarettes, a TV spot you are likely to remember seeing if you’re old enough. You’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Brass Ring and Answer versions, although it was the one by the Brass Ring that made it to #36 on the Hot 100 50 years ago this spring.

(Programming note: please to be remembering that One Day in Your Life is now its own separate blog. You can keep track of the latest posts in the left-hand column of this blog.)

The Year in AC and Country

(Pictured: country singer Cam. As I have said on the air several times, if you would like her to be your girlfriend, get in line.)

If you’re a radio DJ and you like a certain song, you can say so on the air. If you think it sucks, you keep that to yourself. It makes sense, of course—the theory is that every song a station plays could or should be someone’s favorite. You as an individual jock (and you as a radio station) shouldn’t tell them their taste is lousy.

Sometimes you can get away with something if you do it obliquely. I have played David Soul’s “Don’t Give Up on Us” in the spring and suggested it is appropriate for a season in which the sap is rising. I justify this by saying that even people who like “Don’t Give Up on Us” know it’s sappy, and that more people will find the wisecrack funny than offensive. I once back-announced a country song that recycled every cliché of the last five years—pickup truck, girl in a ball cap, liquor brand name-check, and no original idea in the whole three minutes—by saying, “That’s new . . . although it sounds strangely familiar.”

Given the fact that listeners of my radio stations read this blog (or they can, theoretically—I am not sure how many of them do), the same rules apply here. I can tell you which of the Billboard Top 50 adult contemporary hits of 2016 I like. Same for Country Aircheck‘s Top 70 of the year. If you want to know which ones I’d like to kill with fire, you’ll have to talk to me in a bar.

On the AC chart, the best of the Top 50 are the three singles by Adele: “Hello” (#4), “Send My Love to Your New Lover” (#12), and “When We Were Young” (#16). I really like “Ex’s and Oh’s” by Elle King (#6) because it strays a long way from the young-woman-shouting template that so many singers default to. Pink’s “Just Like Fire” (#9) is her best single in years. Bucking a couple of the last decade’s trends, it’s got some actual dynamics—soft parts and loud parts—plus the version we’re playing clocks in at a compact 2:57. The surprise of the year is probably “Adventure of a Lifetime” by Coldplay (#29), the most un-self-conscious (and best) record they’ve ever made. They finally stopped worrying about being tasteful and just got down.

(I’m not going to link to all of these, as they’re easy enough to find at YouTube.)

On the country chart, 2016 was a year in which bro-country (pickup truck, girl in a ball cap, liquor brand name-check) continued to wane, although it was also a year in which the most successful male acts continued to borrow more from Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars than from the legacy artists of their own genre. The best of the year’s top 70 are still recognizable as country: “Stay a Little Longer” by the Brothers Osborne (#8), “Record Year” by Eric Church (at #19, a song that made nearly every respectable critic’s list of the best country songs of 2016), “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw (at #28, the lone single to appear on both the country and AC year-end charts), “My Church” by Maren Morris (#41, and my favorite record of the year, either AC or country, by a mile), and “Burning House” by Cam (#54, which also crossed over to AC but not enough to crack the year’s top 50).

A major difference between the AC and country charts is that the worst junk on the AC chart doesn’t make me feel embarrassed for the people who perform it. The worst records among country’s top 70 are all stupid in unique ways, but their performers share an obliviousness that’s remarkable. A couple of veteran acts commit to hideously bad songs like they were “Stand By Your Man” or “Ring of Fire,” while younger offenders may be too dumb or too beholden to a team of producers to know the difference, or making too much money to care.

I hadn’t been in radio long before realizing that at any given moment, whatever format I’m doing, I’m gonna find that one-third of the songs will be OK to good, one-third will be OK to not good, and one-third will leave little impression one way or the other. After nearly 40 years in the biz, those proportions still seem about right to me.

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