That’s Rock and Roll

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(Pictured: Shaun Cassidy meets the people in the summer of 1977.)

Now, on with the annotated countdown of the Top 56 songs of 1977, as compiled by WIND in Chicago.

24.  “Lonely Boy”/Andrew Gold. A lot of baby boomers blame their parents for stuff their parents don’t even—or can’t even—know they did. “Lonely Boy” may be the single greatest artifact of this runaway narcissism.

23.  “Theme from Rocky”/Bill Conti. I once called the vocal line on this record “stiff and white and weird.” Could probably apply to the whole thing.

22.  “That’s Rock and Roll”/Shaun Cassidy. One Saturday on my radio station’s Facebook page, I posted a picture of Shaun Cassidy nipped from an old local radio survey the week he played a concert here in 1977, and asked the question, “Were any of you there?” It became one of the most popular posts the station’s ever done.

21.  “Nobody Does It Better”/Carly Simon. Has gone further down the memory hole than almost every song on this survey. You just don’t hear it anywhere anymore.

20.  “Fly Like An Eagle”/Steve Miller Band. Discuss: “Fly Like an Eagle” is a better record with the “Space Intro” included, but “Jet Airliner” is better without its electronic intro, “Threshold.”

19. “Theme From A Star Is Born”/Barbra Streisand. Like lovely snowflakes falling.

18.  “Do You Wanna Make Love”/Peter McCann. McCann’s career was pretty much made by one song—“Right Time of the Night” by Jennifer Warnes, a songwriting credit that got McCann his own record deal, which resulted in a single that made WIND’s best-of-77 where the superior “Right Time” didn’t.

17.  “Dancing Queen”/ABBA. This song was #1 on the Hot 100 for only a week, but 100 years from now, it’s likely to be the only song from 1977 anybody remembers.

16.  “When I Need You”/Leo Sayer. The high-pitched emoting of “When I Need You” is the best thing Leo Sayer ever did by many miles, tiptoeing right up to the edge of too much without going over. But maybe just for me.

15.  “Weekend in New England”/Barry Manilow. [listens and remembers something] [long pause] Mmmmm . . . . I’m sorry, you were saying?

14.  “Higher and Higher”/Rita Coolidge. It was a Chicago radio thing for DJs to occasionally talk after playing a jingle. I maintain that a DJ could justifiably talk after Rita’s cold opening on this record, although I’ve never done it myself.

13.  “Best of My Love”/Emotions. Sounds better to me now than it did then.

12.  “Southern Nights”/Glen Campbell. As I hoped for David Bowie after his death, I hope Glen Campbell had some inkling, while he was alive, of just how beloved he was.

11. “Da Doo Ron Ron”/Shaun Cassidy. In one of the very first posts at this blog back in 2004, I told the world how much I like this record, and I still do.

10.  “Rich Girl”/Hall and Oates. What I am pretty sure is the most-commented-upon post in the history of this blog, back in 2012, was inspired in part by the reluctance of certain radio stations to air the word “bitch” in “Rich Girl.”

9./8.  “Sir Duke”/Stevie Wonder and “The Things We Do for Love”/10cc. What has made these records enjoyable for 40 years is their 180-proof, no-apologies joyfulness.

7.  “Torn Between Two Lovers”/Mary Macgregor. Even 40 years ago, there was a sense of “This is one of the top songs in the country? This? Really?”

6.  “Star Wars Theme-Cantina Band”/Meco. This is the only part of the Star Wars universe I have ever been interested in.

5.  “Blinded by the Light”/Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. This song frequently reminds me of a frozen, pre-dawn Saturday morning bus ride to a high-school wrestling tournament I didn’t want to attend, knowing it would be 18 hours before we got home.

4.  “Hot Line”/Sylvers. A monster in Chicago. I don’t know where WIND ranked it during its chart run, but WLS had it at #1 for two weeks in February.

3.  “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”/Andy Gibb. Not just four weeks at #1 and four months in the Top 10, but nine straight weeks in the top three of the Hot 100.

2.  “Undercover Angel”/Alan O’Day. O’Day wrote three of the 1970s’ biggest love-it-or-hate-it hits: “Undercover Angel,” the Righteous Brothers’ “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and Helen Reddy’s “Angie Baby,” as well as Cher’s fabulous “Train of Thought.”

1. “You Light Up My Life”/Debby Boone. Inevitable.

I wrote this post last December, intending to put it up around New Year’s, but I never did. I can’t remember why now, as it doesn’t seem to suck any more than the usual run of stuff around here. Hope you enjoyed it. 

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On and On

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(Pictured: David Soul in Starsky and Hutch, 1977.)

At the end of 2017, I wrote a two-part post recapping the Top 56 songs of 1977 from WIND in Chicago, and then, for some reason, decided not to run it. I looked at it again the other day and I couldn’t remember why I decided not to run it, so I’m gonna run it now.

56.  “You’re My World”/Helen Reddy. Does a remarkable job of conjuring up that summer, but maybe just for me.

55.  “We’re All Alone”/Rita Coolidge. I prefer this to the Boz Scaggs original. It just seems to work better when sung by a woman, but maybe just for me.

54. “Barracuda”/Heart. Your AM radio was rockin’ hard all summer long, and not only because of this.

53.  “On and On”/Stephen Bishop. “Poor old Jimmy sits alone in the moonlight / Saw his woman kiss another man.” This sort of happened to your poor old correspondent in 1977, but the details I take to the grave.

52. “Just Remember I Love You”/Firefall. You can say it, but that won’t necessarily make it true.

51./50.  “You and Me”/Alice Cooper and “Knowing Me, Knowing You”/ABBA. Snapshots from the comfortable middle of the relationship, and the bitter end.

49.  “This Song”/George Harrison. Will say again: Thirty-Three and 1/3 is in my Top 5 albums of all time. Maybe Top 3.

48.  “You Don’t Have to Be a Star”/Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. A perfect production by Don Davis, a titan of the Detroit music scene. He should be a lot better known than he is. Look him up.

47.  “Couldn’t Get It Right”/Climax Blues Band. I read not long ago that this song was the last thing recorded for the album Gold Plated because the record company didn’t hear a hit single, so the band set out to write one.

46. “Come Sail Away”/Styx. If this hadn’t straddled the 1977 and 1978 chart years, it would have been the runaway #1 song of the year in Chicago in either one year or the other. It was in heavy rotations for months.

45.  “She Did It”/Eric Carmen. Honk if you remember this record at all. Hello?

44.  “Ariel”/Dean Friedman. The way Friedman bends the line “we made love to bombs bursting in air” into the word “Ariel” pleases me greatly, still.

43.  “Dreams”/Fleetwood Mac. There has never been anything else that sounds like this.

42.  “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”/Crystal Gayle. I said all I could think of about this song back in September.

41.  “Handy Man”/James Taylor. He fixes broken hearts, but he doesn’t sound all that happy about it.

40.  “Lido Shuffle”/Boz Scaggs. Whenever Boz plays it live (and I’ve heard it four times), it leaves a smoking hole where the theater used to be.

39.  “Feels Like the First Time”/Foreigner. Sounds a bit like it was focus-grouped into existence, designed to appeal to AM kids and their older FM siblings, but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.

38.  “Don’t Leave Me This Way”/Thelma Houston. Somebody I was reading recently picked this as their #1 song of 1977, and you could do worse.

37. “Year of the Cat”/Al Stewart. If I were picking my personal #1 song of 1977, this could be it, and I’d have trouble doing better.

36.  “Swayin’ to the Music”/Johnny Rivers. You wouldn’t mind living the scenario in this song, and neither would I.

35.  “I’m in You”/Peter Frampton. Poor guy, having to follow Frampton Comes Alive.

34.  “I Feel Love”/Donna Summer. I did not care much for Donna Summer when her hits were on the radio. But I’m older now, and wiser.

33.  “Looks Like We Made It”/Barry Manilow. Be careful with broad romantic pronouncements, my dude. Sometimes they are premature.

32.  “I’m Your Boogie Man”/KC and the Sunshine Band. I have a vinyl KC greatest-hits album on which this is segued into “Keep It Comin’ Love,” and it is awesome.

31.  “Stand Tall”/Burton Cummings. [listens and remembers something] [long pause] Mmmmm . . . . I’m sorry, you were saying?

30.  “Hotel California”/Eagles. Will say again: if you’re tired of this song and never want to hear it again, I understand. But I’m not there yet.

29./28. “After the Lovin'”/Engelbert Humperdinck and “You Made Me Believe in Magic”/Bay City Rollers. After, and also during, and also before if you want me to be honest about it.

27. “New Kid in Town”/Eagles. I said all I could think of about this song in February of ’17.

26.  “Keep it Comin’ Love”/KC and the Sunshine Band. See #32.

25.  “Don’t Give Up on Us”/David Soul. A program director once criticized me for calling this record “sappy” on the air. I can see his point, but I’m pretty sure even people who like it think it’s sappy.

We’ll cover the top 24 in a later installment, whenever I get around to it.

I Got Swag

I see stuff on Twitter all the time, and I say stuff on Twitter all the time. What I didn’t do in the case of the transistor radio above was to go on eBay and see if I could find it. But my friend HERC did.

And then he sent it to me. “Keep your money,” he wrote. “But promise me you’ll enjoy the everloving crap out of this.”

I am gobsmacked by HERC’s generosity. This isn’t the first gift he’s sent me—a year or so ago he sent along a fascinating history of Tucson radio. And it’s not just HERC who’s been generous. Dr. Mark of My Favorite Decade sent me a swag box a year or two ago. And just the other day, Bean Baxter from KROQ in Los Angeles sent me a copy of Yacht Rock: The Oral History of the Soft, Smooth Sounds of the 70s and 80s by Greg Prato. I have been sitting on two complete editions of Humble Harve’s National Album Countdown that came to me from longtime reader Paul, and I hope to write about them eventually. Gary has repeatedly gifted me with mp3s from his collection of 45 edits. Miles has sent me a couple of fantastic airchecks. And others whose names I am neglecting to mention have been just as generous in other ways.

I have not expressed sufficient gratitude for these gifts, I don’t think, but I am blown away by them. I am not sure how best to pay them back, except maybe to pay them forward. This is a lightly trafficked corner of the Internet, but those who come around mean a great deal to me. It’s been my privilege to meet a few of you in the real world, and I hope to meet others, someday, someway.

And buy drinks. Many, many drinks.

Again, thank you HERC, Mark, Bean, Paul, Gary, Miles and all the others. Thank you all.

(One more thing: there will be a new post at One Day in Your Life today, and by the time you read this it might already be up.)

Listening, 50 Years Ago Tonight

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(Since putting the finishing touches on this post early this morning and scheduling it to post, I have been reading MLK50 posts almost exclusively, and I’m conscious now of how lame mine is. Your time will almost certainly be better spent here, here, or here. If you have time for nothing else today, click the link about news bulletins below. The bulk of it is CBS News coverage from April 4 and 5, and some of it is riveting.)

I have written many times how my parents were serious radio listeners. Dad had a radio in the barn that was always on while he milked the cows. Mother’s radio sat in the kitchen on a counter near the sink, under a low-hanging cupboard in a space so small it wasn’t good for much else. Although she had several over the years, one that I remember best was a light-colored AM/FM unit with a dial that lit up brightly when it was turned on.

Although Mother and Dad listened to our local station in the morning and evening, she would sometimes tune over to WGN from Chicago during the middle of the day. On the evening of April 4, 1968, Mother hadn’t tuned back to our local station, but she had turned the radio on. A baseball game was on, likely the Cubs and certainly an exhibition game, as the regular season didn’t start until the next week. She was not a baseball fan, so I don’t know why she would have been listening. Maybe she turned her radio on and got sidetracked before she could tune elsewhere, as a young mother with boys aged 8, 5, and 1 would frequently be.

I was playing on the floor of the nearby dining room. Maybe my brother was playing with me and maybe he wasn’t; I can’t recall. I would not have been paying close attention to the baseball game, since I wasn’t a sports fan yet. That would come in another year. But at some point during the game, perhaps between 6:30 and 7:00, a news bulletin came on that Martin Luther King had been shot in Memphis.

I remember hearing it. Or at least I think I do. I can see myself on the green tile floor of the dining room, the brightly lit radio playing over my shoulder, and the news coming on.

I had a precocious interest in current events for a second-grader. Because I absorbed a lot by osmosis from my parents’ radios, from the TV news they watched, and from the newspapers I saw them reading, I might have recognized King’s name. I might have heard about his Poor Peoples’ Campaign and his solidarity with striking sanitation workers in Memphis.

Now it’s just as likely that I knew nothing of Martin Luther King on that night 50 years ago. It’s possible that my hearing about the King murder may not have happened in any way remotely close to the way I recall it. Maybe I didn’t hear about it at all that night. Our memories are notoriously faulty, even regarding stuff we believe we remember vividly. And memories from childhood get more faulty as time passes, don’t they? I have had for years a memory from the weekend of the JFK assassination, a single image of a coffin on a bier, but I was three years old. I can’t honestly say whether I really saw it on TV or I saw the picture later and created the memory. I also remember telling my parents at some point in ’68 that I wanted Eugene McCarthy to be president—based on what, I have no idea, but it seems like the kind of thing I would have said. If I actually said it.

So I can’t claim to be certain about what I remember hearing 50 years ago tonight, although a future radio guy learning of the King murder on the radio before he knew anything about his future makes a fine little prophetical anecdote. It’s one of those things that should be true, which might be why I remember it that way.

If you’re old enough to remember 50 years ago tonight, how did you learn about it? If you’re not, what’s the first historic news event you remember hearing about?

All I Can Do

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(Pictured: the young Cars.)

Several years ago—2004 sticks in my mind, but I don’t remember precisely—I bought a CD player with a recording well. My old player had died, and this new one would let me make CDs of some of my favorite vinyl albums. But it didn’t work right often enough, and it wasn’t long before I gave up on it entirely. But I still have a few of the CDs I managed to make, and one of them ended up in my CD bag on a recent trip: the Cars’ 1979 album Candy-O.

If you asked me to name my favorite albums of all time, I suspect I’d name many albums before I got to Candy-O, if I ever got to it at all. But listening to it the other day, all I could think was damn, this is a great record. And I wondered how come I don’t listen to it more often, because it’s every bit the equal of my all-time faves. Listen to it yourself while I rank the tracks on the album:

9.  “You Can’t Hold on Too Long.” Every time I do one of these Re-Listening Project posts, I find myself apologizing to the songs at the bottom of the list, which usually end up here not because I actively dislike them, but because I like other songs more.

8.  “Got a Lot on My Head.” See previous entry.

7.  “Since I Held You.” Ranks ahead of “You Can’t Hold on Too Long” and “Got a Lot on My Head” because it’s a little more commercial than they are. This could easily have been a single.

6.  “Lust for Kicks.” The little synthesizer hook on this isn’t so much a hook as it is ear candy. Yummy irresistible ear candy.

5.  “Nightspots.” First track, side two, jittery like everybody in the band had six cups of coffee first.

4.  “Double Life”/”Shoo-Be-Doo”/”Candy-O.” These three tracks run together for 8 1/2 minutes at the end of side one, and we often played ’em all together on my college radio station. “Double Life” is the edgiest and most futuristic track on the record; “Shoo-Be-Doo” is 96 seconds further out on the edge; “Candy-O” is the hardest-rockin’ thing the Cars ever put on vinyl.

3.  “Let’s Go.” This was one of my favorite songs of the summer in 1979, a season in which so many future staples of the classic-rock format were released that it seemed almost like a coordinated reaction to the disco era. What we didn’t really notice then was that you could dance to “Let’s Go” too.

2.  “It’s All I Can Do.” This was the second single from the album, and if I were making a list of the all-time greatest #41 singles (hey, there’s an idea), “It’s All I Can Do” would be near the top. Few records have a more pleasing introduction, and if you can keep from singing along with “It’s all I can do / To keep waiting for you,” you’re not me.

1.  “Dangerous Type.” From the bottomless low end of it to the glockenspiel flourishes as it gets ready to fade, the Cars use the whole sonic palette to make “Dangerous Type” into something ominous, intense, relentless, and the single best thing they ever did. It goes on for 4 1/2 minutes, the last couple of minutes of which are positively spellbinding—and when it’s over, you’re not ready for it to be.

If Candy-O doesn’t get the same critical praise as the Cars’ debut album from a year before, it’s largely due to the difference between hearing something that’s utterly fresh and hearing the latest iteration of something we’ve heard before. Compare the reaction to Boston vs. Don’t Look Back, for example, and consider also that like those two albums, everything the Cars had spent years creating since their formation was on The Cars, while Candy-O had to be made in a matter of months and in the wake of the first.

I was both surprised and not surprised by how much I liked Candy-O after hearing it again for the first time in a while. Also surprising: how good my vinyl copy sounded, considering it was 25 years old when I copied it to the CD.

Sugar In My Bowl

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(Pictured: Dinah Washington.)

(This is a remarkably old repeat. I have updated it with YouTube links to some of the songs mentioned, because YouTube didn’t exist when this post originally appeared here, back on January 3, 2005. I have revised it a little, too.)

Our current guardians of virtue would have you believe that before those damn hippie kids screwed everything up in the 1960s, American pop culture was largely benign. But there’s never been a time when nothing unfit for either your grandma or your eight-year-old niece ever crept into public consciousness. Cliff Edwards, a star of the 20s and 30s known as Ukulele Ike, recorded such tunes as “I’m a Bear in a Lady’s Boudoir” and “I’m Going to Give it to Mary With Love.” Edwards and other white artists recorded such material with a wink and a nudge, as euphemistic as Seinfeld‘s “master of your domain.” In the blues and R&B fields, performers were often far more blunt. Songs dealing with a lot more than mere sexual innuendo were common, as was a more rough-and-tough style.

Certain songs from the genre sometimes known as “dirty blues” are better known by title than by any specific performance, such as “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” and “If It Don’t Fit, Don’t Force It.” A performer such as Bo Carter could make a career out of records like “My Pencil Won’t Write No More,” “Banana in Your Fruit Basket,” and “Please Warm My Weiner.” Women did the dirty too, such as Lil Johnson with “Press My Button, Ring My Bell,” Julia Lee with “King Size Papa” and “My Man Stands Out,” and Lucille Bogan with “Shave ‘Em Dry.” In a genre all about envelope-pushing, “Shave ‘Em Dry” was considered too far out for a long time–it remained unreleased for over 30 years, until the 1970s. It’s not safe for work even today.

Better-known blues and R&B artists also recorded material we’d rate as PG or R, like Bessie Smith’s “I Want Some Sugar in My Bowl” or Alberta Hunter’s “You Can’t Tell the Difference After Dark.” Wynonie Harris recorded “Keep On Churnin’ (Til the Butter Comes),” Dinah Washington waxed “Big Long Slidin’ Thing,” and Memphis Slim once recorded a song called “If You See Kay.” Most such records were underground hits—the musical equivalent of Playboy magazines under the mattress—but a few reached a mass audience: “Sixty Minute Man” by the Dominoes, for example, and “Work With Me Annie” by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

If a listener’s taste ran to songs about homosexuality, they were out there, too—like Kokomo Arnold’s “Sissy Man Blues” (“Lord if you can’t bring me no woman / Send me some sissy man”). Drugs? How about Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher”—what could she be mooching, I wonder?—or the fairly well-known novelty “Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine”?

Outside the blues and R&B fields, if you dig into your father’s or grandfather’s vinyl albums, you might find some nightclub recordings by Rusty Warren or Ruth Wallis. They were more suggestive than obscene, and what made them seem so risque was Warren and Wallis’ frequent use of the word “boobs.” (Warren’s most famous tune is probably “Bounce Your Boobies,” which occasionally surfaced on the Dr. Demento radio show). They sound fairly tame now, but they were hot stuff for adults only in the 1950s and early 60s.

Yep, wherever there have been human beings and live microphones, sooner or later there have been songs sold in plain brown wrappers. A fabulous essay on “dirty blues” is here. Another about drug-related blues songs is here.

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