According to Plan

(Pictured: Melanie, archetypal hippie chick.)

(Here we are at the end of September in 1970 for the second post in a row. Quelle surprise.)

I am starting to think that my favorite American Top 40 shows are the earliest ones, because they’re so odd compared to the way the show would sound by the time it was heard around the world a few years hence.

The 12th show, for the week of September 26, 1970, is weirdly paced. Casey goes quickly from point to point, often barely even pausing as he back-announces one song and front-announces another, like he’s hurrying to shave off a second here or a second there. His inflections change from song to song, punching into boss-jock mode sometimes and dipping down to FM-radio whisperer at other times. The latter is unintentionally hilarious when he uses it at one point to say, “Something happens to a woman over 35 when she hears the voice of Tom Jones.”

It wouldn’t be long before the shows were entirely scripted, but there are moments in the 1970 shows that feel like a guy winging it on live radio, throwing in bits on the fly. For example, on the 9/26/70 show, introducing “Long Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt, Casey offhandedly mentions that she will be singing the theme to Andy Griffith’s new TV series that fall. In 1970, Griffith, two years removed from playing Sheriff Andy Taylor, starred in The Headmaster. The show was a 30-minute drama in which Griffith played the headmaster of a private school in California, a role intended to be far removed from the kindly North Carolina dude he played throughout the 60s. It was not a hit, roundly spanked by another new show airing that fall, The Partridge Family, and barely made it to January, At that point, it was retooled as The New Andy Griffith Show, in which he went back to playing a kindly North Carolina dude—and it bombed, too.

Long story short: Linda did indeed sing the Headmaster theme, a song called “Just a Man.” It’s not particularly good, but you can hear a bit of it here.

During the first year of American Top 40, Casey occasionally refers to songs moving up or down on the chart by specific number of “points,” which is a word I’ve not heard anyone else use when talking about chart positions. On the 9/26/70 show, two records went up a remarkable number of points. Casey mentions that since their debut in 1969, the Jackson Five have never failed to make #1. Their latest hit, “I’ll Be There,” certainly seems destined to reach the summit, having debuted the previous week at #40 before moving up 21 points to #19. But they have company: another debut from the previous week, “Green Eyed Lady” by Sugarloaf, is also up 21 points, from #39 to #18.

Certain records on this chart make me wish I could get inside the heads of radio station music directors and find out what they were thinking. Melanie’s “Peace Will Come (According to Plan)” is hippie drivel, but there it is at #35 in the nation anyhow. (Melanie was 23 years old in 1970, but she sings like a 75-year-old woman.) “Neanderthal Man” by Hotlegs is a record we’ve noted before, little more than a drum track with the vocal barely intelligible in the mix and positively interminable, yet there is is up five points to #22. And at #19, it’s “Rubber Duckie” by Ernie, the Sesame Street character, which is just painful.

On the twin subjects of “what were you thinking?” and “sweet mama that’s painful,” one of the extras heard on the original version of the show in 1970 was “Old Rivers” by Walter Brennan, in which the famous Western actor recites the story of a poor farmer’s mule. (It had reached #5 on the Hot 100 in 1962, which is more evidence that the British Invasion had to happen.) “Old Rivers” was snipped from the recent syndicated repeat, along with “My Heart Has a Mind of Its Own” by Connie Francis and “Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan. All three were offered to current affiliates as optional fillers. The repeat included another extra, “Your Precious Love” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, fitting given that the top two hits of the week were both Motown hits: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross at #1 and “War” by Edwin Starr at #2.

I’ve said it before: it’s fascinating to eavesdrop as Casey Kasem and his producers figure out what American Top 40 is supposed to be, in real time, a week at a time.

One Day in Your Life: September 28, 1970

(Pictured: a group of travelers arrives at the airport in Rome on September 28, 1970.)

September 28, 1970, was a Monday. It’s the first day of the fall semester at Kent State University in Ohio, where four anti-war protesters were killed by National Guardsmen in May. Folk singer Phil Ochs headlines a memorial event that includes speeches by civil rights activist Dr. Ralph Abernathy and Thomas Grace, a student wounded in May. Last week, the Scranton Commission investigation into the shootings determined that even if the Guardsmen believed they were in danger, the situation did not call for lethal force. Thirty-two Americans taken hostage three weeks ago in a series of airplane hijackings in the Middle East arrive in Cyprus on their way home; six more former hostages are free in Jordan but yet to start for home. Time‘s cover story this week is about Palestinian guerillas and the Jordanian civil war. Egyptian president Gamel Abdel Nasser dies of a heart attack at age 52 and is succeeded by Anwar Sadat; author John Dos Passos dies at age 74. Running for reelection in California, Governor Ronald Reagan visits a Honda car plant in Gardena. President and Mrs. Nixon visit Pope Paul VI during their trip to Rome. Also in Rome today: the Rolling Stones, who arrive from Vienna for a concert tomorrow night.

This week’s Sports Illustrated features a cover foldout with pictures of major league managers Danny Murtaugh of Pittsburgh, Leo Durocher of the Chicago Cubs, and Gil Hodges of the New York Mets. Inside, the magazine reports on the controversy surrounding eight black football players at Syracuse University who have been suspended for the season over their discrimination complaint against the university. In today’s Peanuts strip, Lucy wonders why Schroeder never gives her flowers. On TV tonight, ABC’s second broadcast of Monday Night Football stars the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, who race to a 31-0 lead in the second quarter on the way to beating the Baltimore Colts, 44-24. The Colts will lose only one more game this season on their way to a Super Bowl win. Major sponsor Ford promotes the new 1971 Mustang, LTD, Maverick, and Torino models among the game’s commercials. CBS counters with Gunsmoke, The Lucy Show, Mayberry RFD, The Doris Day Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. NBC’s lineup includes The Red Skelton Show (new on NBC after 19 seasons on CBS), Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, and the theatrical movie The Lost Man, a 1969 film starring Sidney Poitier as a revolutionary on the run from the police.

Findings of a coroner’s inquest into the death of Jimi Hendrix on September 18th are announced in London. Hendrix choked to death while intoxicated on barbiturates. Badfinger plays at Eastern Washington College in Cheney, Washington; Yes plays at Aberystwyth University in Wales. The Moody Blues play the Spectrum in Philadelphia. At WDBQ in Dubuque, Iowa, “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond spends another week at #1 according to the station’s new music survey. New in the Top 10 are “Joanne” by Michael Nesmith, “Groovy Situation” by Gene Chandler, and “Indiana Wants Me” by R. Dean Taylor. The biggest mover on the chart is “Candida” by Dawn. Among the new songs on the survey are the latest hits by Mark Lindsay, Melanie, and Linda Ronstadt, along with last week’s Premier Single, “Don’t You Know” by Beefcake.

Perspective From the Present: Moody Blues flutist Ray Thomas fell off a stage platform just before the Spectrum show, breaking two toes—and his flute. He asked if anyone in the audience happened to have a flute he could use, and someone did. Whether this happened on September 28 or the night before isn’t clear; neither is it clear whether the Moodys played on back-to-back nights at the Spectrum or just one, and whether Thomas asked for a replacement flute on the first night or the second night. As for the band Beefcake, our friend Larry Grogan suspects it may be made up of songwriters Chris Arnold, David Martin, and Geoff Morrow, who recorded under several different names, and who wrote dozens of songs for acts from Elvis on down, including “Can’t Smile Without You,” made famous by Barry Manilow.

And as for the bigger hits from the fall of 1970, you know how I am about all that.

One Hit ’76

(Pictured: Louise Lasser, star of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and Chevy Chase, doing a bit for Saturday Night Live. Lasser’s 1976 hosting gig was one of the most notorious in SNL history.)

September 25th is One-Hit Wonder Day. I usually forget to observe it, because every day is some kind of day and the good ones get lost in the shuffle. But here, a day late, is a list of one-hit wonders from 1976. It’s not the complete list for the year, but each one is the only chart entry for that artist.

“Junk Food Junkie”/Larry Groce. If I were still teaching social studies, I’d use “Junk Food Junkie” as a snapshot from the Me Decade because it rings so true. Idealism has its limits today, and it did back in the 70s, too. Groce has continued to record since the 70s and has been a host on West Virginia Public Radio since 1983. (Chart peak: #13, March 20)

“Baby Face”/Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps. The Corps was a studio group assembled by Harold Wheeler, who had been Burt Bacharach’s musical director in the 60s and would go on to a long career working in movies and TV, including many years as musical director of Dancing With the Stars. “Baby Face” is a disco version of a song made famous by Al Jolson in the 20s, if you think that’s something you need. (Chart peak: #14, March 6)

“Wham Bam (Shang-a-Lang)”/Silver. The distilled essence of 70s radio music and one of the glorious frozen moments from the fall of ’76. (Chart peak: #16, October 2)

“I’m Easy”/Keith Carradine. Oscar-winning song from Nashville. (Chart peak: #17, August 7)

“Street Singin'”/Lady Flash. A female trio who backed Barry Manilow during the last half of the 70s. Their lone hit is not as interesting as the story of one member. Lorraine “Reparata” Mazzola had joined Reparata and the Delrons (a group better known for their name than their music) in 1969. Although she wasn’t the original Reparata, she was happy to let people think she was. The original Reparata, Mary O’Leary, sued Mazzola and won her case when Mazzola didn’t show up for court. But Mazzola then legally changed her first name from Lorraine to Reparata, and continued to let people believe she had been lead singer of the Delrons. According to Wikipedia, that is, so who the hell knows. (Chart peak: #27, September 18)

Roots, Rock, Reggae”/Bob Marley and the Wailers. Their only American chart single, from their most successful American album, Rastaman Vibration. (Not counting the back-catalog compilation Legend, which is one of the great success stories in pop music history. (Chart peak: #51, July 17.)

“BLT”/Lee Oskar. Oskar’s harmonica gave War its distinctive sound until he left the band in 1992. He’s been selling his own line of harmonicas ever since. (Chart peak: #59, July 24)

“You to Me Are Everything”/The Real Thing and “Mighty High”/Mighty Clouds of Joy. The question we often ask about one-hit wonders is how they could be so good yet manage to hit only once. In the case of the Real Thing, “You to Me Are Everything” was hamstrung by two competing versions in the marketplace at the same time. As for the Mighty Clouds of Joy, who knows? They were a gospel group who made the transition to pop in the 70s, and “Mighty High” is a rager. (Chart peak for the Real Thing: #64, August 28; for Mighty Clouds of Joy: #69, March 27.

“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”/Deadly Nightshade. Soap-opera parody Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, premiered in January 1976 and was one of the TV sensations of the year, syndicated around the country and running at all different times. It was supposed to be a comedy and sometimes it was, but it could be strange and disturbing, too. Members of the Deadly Nightshade had been playing together in rock bands since the 60s, but because they were all women, major labels didn’t take their groups seriously. Their disco version of the Hartman theme comes from an album called Funky and Western. (Chart peak: #79, July 31)

“The Game Is Over”/Brown Sugar. This Philly soul trio’s lone hit was written and produced by Vince Montana, who had been a member of MFSB and founded the Salsoul Orchestra—and it’s really good. (Chart peak: #79, March 13)

You can read about many more one-hit wonders if you revisit my Down in the Bottom series from a few years ago, in which I wrote about all of them to peak on the Hot 100 between #90 and #100 from 1955 through 1986.

Some Gotta Win, Some Gotta Lose

(Pictured: Danny O’Keefe, who Gets It.)

Yesterday was the first day of fall. So let’s look at a few Billboard Hot 100s and what was at #40 on some autumnal equinoxes gone by, just to see what there is to hear.

1961: “Let’s Get Together”/Hayley Mills & Hayley Mills (up from #69, third week on). That’s how the record was listed in Billboard; in the movie The Parent Trap, it’s sung as a duet between the twins Mills played in the film. It would reach #8 in October, and sweet mama it’s terrible.

1964: “Let It Be Me”/Betty Everett & Jerry Butler (up from #54, third week on). The Everly Brothers had taken “Let It Be Me” into the Top 10 in 1960, and this duet would make the Top 10 as well. It would chart again in years to come . . . as you’ll see.

1966: “God Only Knows”/Beach Boys (up from #42, sixth week on). If Brian Wilson felt as though he was in competition with the Beatles after Rubber Soul and Revolver, he bested them with this. Paul McCartney admired it, perhaps because as gifted as he was, he couldn’t do anything like it.

1967: “Pleasant Valley Sunday”/Monkees (down from #25, 10th week on). In 1967, social consciousness popped up in the most unlikely places.

1970: “I’ll Be There”/Jackson Five (debut). New on the Hot 100 at this lofty position, and a miracle that will last forever.

1971: “Yo Yo”/Osmonds (up from #85, second week on). Similarities between the Osmonds and the Jackson Five abound. When ABC launched an Osmonds cartoon series in the fall of 1972, the production company reused some of the animations from the Jackson Five series, figuring that dancing kids were dancing kids.

1972: “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues”/Danny O’Keefe (up from #51, fourth week on). A beautiful, world-weary song we’ve always dug around here, and the world-wearier we get, the more we dig it.

1975: “Who Loves You”/Four Seasons (up from #50, fifth week on)Not every group from the 60s, particularly a group as distinctive as the Four Seasons, could comfortably update their sound for the 70s, but the Seasons did it as well as I can imagine.

1976: “Sunrise”/Eric Carmen (up from #43, sixth week on). “All By Myself” was an epic power ballad, “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” a standard pop weeper. On “Sunrise,” after a brief interlude of overwrought guitar, Eric Carmen gets his Raspberries on.

1977: “The King Is Gone”/Ronnie McDowell (up from #89, second week on). McDowell’s tribute to Elvis was on the radio within three weeks of the King’s passing. “The King Is Gone” would rise to #13 on both the pop and country charts. It started McDowell’s career, although he took a while to find his stride. Between 1981 and 1986, he would put 17 straight singles into the country Top 10, and an 18th would peak at #11.

1982: “Let It Be Me”/Willie Nelson (up from #45, seventh week on). Ever since Stardust in 1978, Willie sprinkled his list of single releases with classic pop songs. Willie’s version of “Let It Be Me” would peak at #40 on the Hot 100 but reach #2 country.

1983: “Suddenly Last Summer”/The Motels (up from #44, third week on). There has never been anything else that sounds like this.

1984: “Strut”/Sheena Easton (up from #45, fifth week on). In which Sheena, who had been mostly a virginal pop balladeer up to this point, gets her swagger on. “Strut” is a great radio record.

1985: “Sunset Grill”/Don Henley (up from #42, fourth week on). Where the Eagles’ “The Sad Cafe” is a place for sweet nostalgia and even hope, “Sunset Grill” is on a dead-end street, where everything’s a little bit sleazy and people stay because they can’t think of a good reason to leave.

1987: “Bad”/Michael Jackson (debut). Me, 2012: “To Jackson’s credit, he didn’t try to make Thriller II. Bad is supposed to be the next thing, on its own. Maybe Bad sounds [less exciting than Thriller] because Thriller changed the world and Bad merely lived in the new world that Thriller had changed.”

1989: “The End of the Innocence”/Don Henley (down from #23, 14th week on). As the Reagan Era shades into the new decade of the 90s, everything’s a little bit sleazy and people stay because they’re too exhausted to leave.

That feels like an appropriate ending to this post, except to add that sometime this week, we passed the threshold of 800,000 hits on this blog since 2007. I am grateful for all of them.

Iowa City Love Letter

(Pictured: the Old Capitol, the iconic centerpiece of the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City.)

Here’s another Off-Topic Tuesday piece. During the 1995-96 academic year, while I was working on my teaching certificate at the University of Iowa, I wrote a regular op-ed column for the student newspaper, the Daily Iowan. I found this piece in an ancient electronic file of drafts, but it’s not in my pile of clippings, so I’m not sure it ever ran. But it adequately captures how I felt about that place. 

Continue reading →

Songs in the Key of Lawrence

(Pictured: Lawrence Welk, onstage in 1980. Considering the appearance of his musicians, he’d come to terms with longer hair by then.)

Clearly we need another Links and Notes post, because a lot of stuff that’s worth your time has been spinning through my Twitter feed too quickly to keep track.

From The 1976 Project: this interview with Candy Clark, who co-starred with David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth, released that year (and re-released this year). Bowie is rumored to have worked on some music for the soundtrack, but it was never released. The actual soundtrack was written and performed by a celebrated 60s figure you may never guess.

This month is the 40th anniversary of ELO’s A New World Record, which is probably my #2 or #3 favorite album of all time, and Ultimate Classic Rock remembered it. FWIW, my #1 album is Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy; George Harrison’s Thirty Three and 1/3 is either #3 or #2.In the summer of ’76, just months before the release of the latter, George was found guilty of unconsciously plagiarizing his most famous solo hit, although the legal decision didn’t mark the end of anything: litigation continued for another 22 years, nearly to the end of his life.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary later this month: Songs in the Key of Life, the subject of a retrospective at Pitchfork.

Pitchfork also published a good, broad overview of the music from the summer of 1976, but perpetuated an error I have seen elsewhere this summer, one that drives me crazy: talking about ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” as part of the 1976 landscape. That’s only in the UK, where it was #1 late in the summer. “Dancing Queen” didn’t hit American radio in a big way until December, and it reached #1 in April 1977, so it’s simply wrong to lump it with the influential American hits of 1976.

On September 16, 1976, Larry Lujack returned to the morning show on WLS after six months spent playing elevator music on WCFL. The day before, he and WLS colleague Bob Sirott appeared on a Chicago TV morning show.

An aircheck from WCFL on September 8, 1971, features longtime Chicago jock Dex Card dropping the needle on a brand-new song by John Lennon, one day before his new album’s official release. You can hear Card play “Imagine’ at the 6:15 mark if you go here. If you listen to the whole thing, you will hear him play many other fine songs popular on that long ago late summer/early fall day.

Friend of the blog Tom Nawrocki told the story of Toni Basil, whose career involves far more than just making “Mickey.”

Another interesting story you may not know involves the husband-and-wife duo Nu Shooz and how “I Can’t Wait” became a hit 30 years ago this summer.  (I could not have loathed that record more back then, but I’m over it.)

I blogged recently on topics from David Hepworth’s book about the music of 1971; now British author Jon Savage has published a book about the music of 1966. Robert Christgau recently reviewed it.

Also from 1966: Rebeat Magazine remembered when Frank Sinatra hit #1 on the singles chart with “Strangers in the Night,” a song he didn’t like—and one proving that however explosive rock was in 1966, the old guard was still powerful, and popular.

There’s a new autobiography of Leiber and Stoller, and Jim Booth reviewed that. Leiber and Stoller’s great contemporary, Sam Phillips, was the subject of an Esquire piece on how he got the unique sound of the records he produced.

If you have attended a sporting event, major league or minor league, in the last 40 years, you have probably seen the Famous Chicken, who started as the San Diego Chicken back in the 70s. The man in the suit, Ted Giannoulas, is retiring, and looking back.

Also retiring is veteran sportscaster Dick Enberg.

Block out the weekend to read this: Vulture’s ranking of all 314 Bruce Springsteen songs, worst to best.

Carole King’s demos for the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and other hits are every bit as good as you’d expect. Hear ’em here.

King and her songwriting partners over the year always found the right words for the melody. Many of today’s songwriters don’t bother.

Rolling Stone put together a list of 20 songs that defined the early 70s, and they do.

It’s About TV looked inside the 1970 Fall Preview edition of TV Guide.

In the fall of 1969, Lawrence Welk opened his new TV season with a new look. Video like this really makes drugs unnecessary.

To see more in a timelier fashion, follow me on Twitter.

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