(Pictured: a driver’s ed student practices parallel parking, 1976.)
Forty years ago today—April 13, 1976—I got my driver’s license.
It was the culmination of a process that started in the fall of 1975 when I took the required one-semester driver’s ed course. It seemed easy to the point of ridiculousness—but it couldn’t have been too easy, since my report card from that semester shows I got a B for the first nine weeks. The course was taught by a man who taught only driver education in addition to proctoring a couple of study halls. Just as nobody grows up wanting to be a middle-relief pitcher, I suspect this guy didn’t go off to college nurturing the desire to teach barely respectful sophomores the rules of the road, but a job is a job.
After completing the classroom course, the next step was to take behind-the-wheel instruction. You’d drive with an instructor in the passenger seat, and share your hour with a partner. My partner was a girl I barely knew. We didn’t even know the same people, so we had quite literally nothing in common, and as a result we barely spoke, either in the car or out of it.
I remember only two things about my behind-the-wheel test. One, that I was not asked to parallel park, which is something that had kept more than one of my friends from passing on the first try. (Since I never had to learn to do it right, I have never done it well.) And two, the smile I eventually got from the cop who had ridden along with me. After I parked outside the local DMV office and watched him calmly making notes on his clipboard, the suspense was killing me. I finally asked, “Did I make it?” “Yeah, you passed.”
(I was spared the fate of one classmate, who had apparently aced the behind-the-wheel test until she ran into a parked car while returning to the lot.)
On the radio that week, the #1 song on WLS was Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” in its second of five weeks at the top. Holding at #2 was “Lonely Night (Angel Face)” by the Captain and Tennille, a record I like more now than I did then. The hottest song on the chart was at #3: the Sylvers’ “Boogie Fever,” which took a mighty leap from #12 the week before. The glorious variety of 70s Top 40 music was on display within the Top 10, where Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” Foghat’s “Slow Ride,” and Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” sat alongside the Four Seasons (“December 1963”), Johnnie Taylor (“Disco Lady”) and Dr. Hook (“Only Sixteen”). Besides “Boogie Fever,” only one other song was new among the week’s top 10: “Right Back Where We Started From” by Maxine Nightingale, which went from #18 to #9. Other big movers on the WLS survey included “Lorelei” by Styx (#17 to #11), “Baby Face” by the Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps, a disco version of a hit from the 1920s (#31 to #21), and “Show Me the Way” by Peter Frampton (#45 to #28).
Their Greatest Hits, 1971-1975 by the Eagles held at #1 on the album chart; fast movers included the Captain and Tennille’s Song of Joy (#14 to #5), Fool for the City by Foghat (#15 to #9), and Frampton Comes Alive (#17 to #11). Notables on the album chart include two Aerosmith albums in the top five (Aerosmith and Toys in the Attic), a listing that reads Runes (Led Zeppelin IV), which moved from #20 to #19, and Robin Trower Live debuting at #31. The list is actually pretty solid, with a bunch of greatest-hits compilations and plenty of classics: A Night at the Opera, Desire, Still Crazy After All These Years, Fleetwood Mac, One of These Nights.
After I passed the test and tucked the license safely into my wallet, my father let me drive the family car—the banana-yellow ’73 Mercury Montego—home in triumph. With the radio on, of course.
(Pictured: Motown singer Brenda Holloway, in an unconventional shot.)
Since before Christmas, we’ve been listening to records that spent a single week in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 between 1964 and 1986. This installment is starting beyond that time frame, however.
During the week of June 22, 1959, “Tall Cool One” by the Wailers rose to #36 for a single week before dropping out of the 40. Almost exactly five years later, during the week of May 30, 1964, the very same recording of “Tall Cool One” entered the Top 40 for another single week, hitting #38 before dropping out again. So they may not belong here at all—or they may deserve extra-special recognition. Either way, the Wailers occupy their own special niche in music history. Backing a fellow Washington state singer named Rockin’ Robin Roberts, they cut the prototype version of “Louie, Louie” in 1961, and are considered one of the first garage bands.
The Viscounts, an instrumental group from New Jersey, also re-charted an earlier hit to make this list. Early in 1960, they hit #52 with “Harlem Nocturne.” Six years later, the same recording made the Top 40—#39, to be precise, for the week of January 1, 1966.
Another fabled garage band, the Shadows of Knight, recorded a version of “Gloria” that hit #10, far eclipsing the original version by Van Morrison’s group Them. They had four other Hot 100 hits in 1966 alone, but only one made the Top 40 and stayed but a week, “Oh Yeah,” at #39 for the week of July 2, 1966. The Five Americans, a group of Oklahomans who formed officially in Dallas, are also considered a garage band. They hit the Top 40 four times, most famously with “Western Union” in 1967. “Zip Code” hit #36 for the week of September 17, 1967. Zip codes were relatively new back then, and the writer of the song had a little trouble with the concept, referring to the zip code “one double-oh-three six-oh-eleven.” Still, if the Postal Service never tried to turn it into a public-service announcement, they failed at their job.
Dionne Warwick, who charted many, many Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs, took their “Are You There (With Another Girl)” to #39 for the week of January 22, 1966. One week later, Fontella Bass, best known for “Rescue Me,” hit #37 with her followup single, “Recovery.”
“Rescue Me” is the best Motown single not to appear on Motown. Brenda Holloway, who actually did appear on Motown, hit #39 with the original version of “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” which she co-wrote, on December 4, 1967. Two weeks later, it would be gone from the Hot 100, and about as quickly, Holloway would be gone from Motown.
Just as Dionne Warwick recorded plenty of Bacharach/David songs, the Fifth Dimension recorded several by Jimmy Webb. After making an indelible smash of “Up Up and Away,” they released Webb’s “Paper Cup,” which Allmusic.com describes as Webb’s tribute to the Beatles, seeming to borrow from “Getting Better” and “Penny Lane.” It bounced from #44 to #34 and back to #44 again, reaching its peak for the week of December 9, 1967.
Other adult pop stars are on our list. Dean Martin made it with “Come Running Back,” which made #35 for the week of June 11, 1966. So did Vikki Carr, who followed her #3 smash “It Must Be Him” with “The Lesson,” which hit #34 for the week of January 27, 1968. Petula Clark hit the Top 40 with 15 straight singles between 1965 and 1968. The last one, “Don’t Give Up,” made #37 for the week of August 24, 1968. (“Don’t Give Up” is a song I didn’t know I remembered; it must have gotten a lot of airplay on our hometown radio station and I absorbed it by accident.) Engelbert Humperdinck was a regular visitor to the Top 40 during about the same time; “I’m a Better Man,” another Bacharach/David joint, made #38 for the week of September 27, 1969. All four of these hits made the Top 10 on the Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart; “The Lesson” was #1.
If I’m counting correctly (always a questionable proposition), we have 28 songs remaining on this list, so future installments of this feature are guaranteed—as much as anything is guaranteed in a world such as this.
(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.