Artist Profiles, Concert Reviews, Music

Sara Niemietz in Twenty Twenty

Without any doubt, musician and singer-songwriter Sara Niemietz has made lemonade out of lemons during the year 2020. In a year where the COVID-19 pandemic reeked-havoc, music artists across America had to come up with new ways to make their music happen.

Obviously, Niemietz wasn’t the only person to have their world turn upside down, as all live concerts and performances ceased to occur. Despite the gloomy world outlook, Sara created new and different ways to bring music to her fans, with various online presentations.

So who is Sara Niemietz?  Born in Chicago Illinois, Niemietz started her career as a child actress, performing in theatre productions, television shows, film roles and multiple musical performances. To read more about Sara’s many non-musical accomplishments, please go to her official website:    https://www.saraniemietz.com/

Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz. Photo by Jeff Xander Photography

Now as an adult, Sara has focused exclusively on being a musician, singing and writing music. During the past decade, Niemietz has collaborated with W.G. Snuffy Walden, who is a musician and a composer. Walden has accompanied Sara on various music projects. Some are cover versions of songs, while other tunes are original compositions.

The other big activity for Niemietz is being involved with Scott Bradlee’s, Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ) group. PMJ is known for taking popular 21st century contemporary songs and rearranging those songs into a different musical style. Many of the PMJ songs are performed in 1920’s jazz or swing format.

For anyone interested in reading more about Sara’s musical accomplishments prior to 2020, I had the opportunity to write her musical story on DJ Dave’s Musical Musings during April 2019.  You can view Sara Niemietz: Born For the Stage here:  https://woodsonrva.com/2019/04/12/sara-niemietz-born-for-the-stage/

Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography

With this latest music blog message on Niemietz, I communicated with Sara multiple times via email about her musical activities over the past 9 months.

At the start of 2020, things looked promising for Niemietz.  Plans to record a live album actually took place during February.  Sara also had scheduled concert tours to take place in the spring and summer.  However, Coronavirus changed all plans starting in mid-March.

 As Scottish Poet Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  All live concerts, shows and performances came to a screeching halt.

Sara Niemietz: Photo by Julien Garros

I asked Sara about her quarantine and social/distancing engagements when lockdowns started happening in her home state of California. She outlined to me about the wide range of new ventures she participated in, which differed from normal musical activities prior to COVID-19 pandemic days.

Over the course of the next 9 months, Niemietz utilized many new functions to keep active with her music fans on social media.  Sara coped and survived during the Coronavirus crisis by implementing fresh alternatives to live concerts:

  •  Live virtual mini concerts

Although Niemietz regularly performed mini concerts virtually prior to COVID-19, she ramped up the number of these online interactions on social media platforms.  The vast majority of the mini concerts were in the comfort of her own home: With Sara playing a variety of instruments (guitar, bass, keyboard and kazoo).

  • Sixty Second Sara videos

Early on during the Coronavirus outbreak, Niemietz created short videos that lasted around 60 seconds.  Some of the videos Sara generated were original compositions while other performances utilized cover versions of popular existing songs.

  •  Saraband

With a computer, sound board, musical instruments and various other audio equipment, Niemietz “cloned” herself and created “Saraband.”  The  Saraband video for the Smokey Robinson cover song, “You’ve Really Got a Hold of Me” is absolutely brilliant.

  •  Weekly Wacky Wednesday

Like clockwork, every Wednesday afternoon during the COVID-19 pandemic, Niemietz holds a weekly virtual live stream on social media. With these Internet performances, Sara performs a wide variety of songs and she encourages major interaction with her fans during these weekly sessions.

  • Saranade Podcast

At the beginning of November 2020, Niemietz produced her first podcast called Saranade.  Her debut message featured the song, “Don’t Walk Me Home” which is the third song on Sara’s new, “twentytwenty” live album.  I personally enjoyed listening to the first podcast: Niemietz did an excellent job imparting information and mixing in her music, for a pleasing balance of verbal communication and musical harmony.

Saranade Podcast audio link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1455049/6151573-episode-1-don-t-walk-me-home-the-411-on-twentytwenty

Sound engineer during the recording sessions of Sara’s “Twentytwenty” album.

Another major project that Niemietz worked on during the summer months was putting together a new live album which came to be called “twentytwenty.”  Sara, Snuffy Walden and a group of hand-picked musicians, performed two Santa Monica, California concerts in front of live audiences, during late February. The plan was to release a live album from these two shows, around the beginning of the summer. 

Just a couple of weeks after recording the February concerts, COVID-19 pandemic raged in America.  Once again, Niemietz had to switch gears with music endeavors and postpone the release date of her new “twentytwenty” album until October. 

Sara, Snuffy, musicians and singers during “twentytwenty” album recording sessions.

Before I give my overview of the new “twentytwenty” album, I want to share some of my email conversations that I had with Niemietz and her responses to my questions on how she dealt with the Coronavirus shutdown as a musician.

DJ Dave:    Please share anything related about the two concerts during late February that resulted in the “twentytwenty” album?

Sara:  It was a supreme joy to play with my friends, knowing this night would be captured forever! With that in mind, one could think the pressure would be high, but there was such a lovely, relaxed atmosphere in the room. The audience were close friends and select fans, so we could feel the love from the stage!

DJ Dave:   Can you tell me about the process of taking the live concert tapes and making them into the final product of a new album?

Sara:  It certainly helped keep us occupied during COVID lockdown! There was a lot of excel sheet making and note taking on my end, as Snuffy and I listened to the shows and decided which takes from which nights we’d use. It was like living the show all over again! Many times, in fact. A first for me, we could not all be in the room during the mixing process. Snuffy, George Landress (our mixing engineer for a decade), and I passed many files back and forth. Plenty of FaceTimes later, we got it all finished!

DJ Dave:   Do you have any comments about the recording of individual songs on the “twentytwenty” album?

Sara:  Our goal on this album was to capture a moment in time. Snuffy and I have been playing shows together for a decade and we wanted to capture the magic of a live show – really document this moment – and share it with listeners. I love studio recording and that environment is my second home, but there is something about playing live that is very hard to capture unless you’re there… in the room… with people… on a stage!

DJ Dave:  Describe being an independent musician/singer/songwriter without a major record label contract?

Sara:  Yes indeed! I am in it for the long haul. Nothing against all of the different paths musicians take to get their songs out there, but the indie path has been good to me. Miraculously, the album landed on the Top 100 Albums list on Billboard, which is very rare for an indie. It is really thanks to those that listen. I know everyone says “I have the best fans… yada yada…” but seriously – these friends of mine are the best and I am so grateful for their support. I feel weird saying “fans” because I just feel like we are all a bunch of wacky music lovers hanging out together.

Snuffy Walden and Sara Niemietz. Photo by Jeff Xander Photography

The day before “twentytwenty” was released on October 16, Sara and her musical partner Snuffy Walden, held a live stream virtual concert to promote her new album.  Joining Niemietz and Walden at this show were Jonathan Richards, Martin Diller, Andrew Kesler, Alex Nester, Mollie Weaver, Mihi Nihil, MWO and Kiya Schafer.

Most of the band members who played with Sara and Snuffy during the October 15th album premier concert, were also part of the two February shows, which culminated in Sara’s newest LP, “twentytwenty.”  The album was recorded live at Apogee Studio, Santa Monica, California, and all songs were produced by Niemietz and Walden.

From the “twentytwenty”  liner notes, here are the artists and musicians who performed on the live compilation album:

  • Guitar – W.G. Snuffy Walden
  • Guitar – Sara Niemietz
  • Piano – Andrew Kesler
  • Drums – Martin Diller
  • Bass – Jonathan Richards
  • Vocals- Sara Niemietz
  • Background Vocals – Alex Nester
  • Background Vocals – Mollie Weaver

There are 17 songs on the “twentytwenty” album.  Five of the selections are cover versions, while the other twelve songs on the live set are originals.   Niemietz is credited with writing or co-writing all 12 of the original songs:  Sara also shares co-writing credits with Snuffy Walden, along with a handful of other musical artists, on the outstanding compositions.

Here is the song order listing for the “twentytwenty” live recording:

  • Smile
  • I Smile
  • Don’t Walk Me Home
  • Made to Last
  • Monroe
  • Let Me Be
  • The Nearness of You
  • Go With the Flow
  • All Your Love
  • Feet Don’t Touch the Floor
  • Calling You
  • Hear Me Now
  • Out of Order
  • Shine
  • Waiting On the Day
  • On Ten
  • Stand By Me
My personal CD copy of “twentytwenty” autographed by Sara

Instrumentally, Sara and her band play a wide variety musical genres on the “twentytwenty.”    The musicians flow seamlessly combining pop, rock, jazz, blues, folk and country throughout the course of any given song. 

As I have listened repeatedly to the new live album, I have been impressed with the quality of musicianship with the band.  The live performances of existing songs from Sara’s musical catalog, brings new energy and freshness to many of the beloved tunes that Niemietz has recorded from past studio albums.

Of course, the main attraction of ‘twentytwenty” is the voice of Sara Niemietz.  Adjectives like exceptional, spectacular, incredible and impressive all come to my mind when I try to convey Sara’s accomplished vocal range. Niemietz expresses vocal excellence throughout her new live album set.

While there are many marvelous songs on Sara’s new album, I will be highlighting just a few of the sensational tunes with my review. I would encourage you to purchase a copy of “twentytwenty” so that you can discover and enjoy the full range of songs that Niemietz released last month.

Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography

When I survey the setlist of Sara’s new album, I am struck by a possibly unintentional foreshadowing of dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic.  The first two songs that Niemietz and her band played in late February, just a few weeks before COVID-19 consumed America, were “Smile” and “I Smile.”

  • Smile: Written by Charlie Chaplin, John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons (1936/1954)

“Smile, though your heart is aching, Smile, even though it’s breaking,

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by

If you smile through your fear and sorrow, Smile and maybe tomorrow,

You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.”

  • I Smile: Written by Kirk Franklin, James Harris, Terry Lewis and Frederick Tackett (2011)

“Today’s a new day, but there is no sunshine, Nothing but clouds, and it’s dark in my heart,

And it feels like a cold night, Today’s a new day, where are my blue skies

Where is the love and the joy that you promised me, Tell me it’s alright,

I almost gave up, but a power that I can’t explain, Fell from heaven like a shower

I smile, even though I hurt see I smile,  I know God is working so I smile, Even though I’ve been here for a while, I smile, smile.”

There is an overriding theme with the above two songs and with many other tunes that Niemietz recorded for the new album:  When times are bad and bleak, don’t give up.  Smile.  Things will get better. This affirming message from Sara is powerful and is encouraging for me as I navigate through these final troubled months of 2020.

  • Monroe

Perhaps the most melodic song on the new live album is “Monroe.”  This tender ballad features Sara on acoustic guitar and outstanding standup bass playing from Jonathan Richards.  Niemietz provides superb emotional outpouring with her heavenly vocals on this wonderful tune. This selection is my current favorite on “twentytwenty.”

  • Made To Last

Snuffy Walden is an excellent guitarist and his guitar presentation on “Made to Last” is absolutely transcendent.  I appreciate Walden’s world-class guitar licks and the interplay of the other musicians with Sara’s stellar vocal range.  The tune has an infectious rhythmic section and is a hot rocking, flame throwing masterpiece.

  • On Ten

One of the encore songs for Sara during her February concerts is the lively, “On Ten.”  Musically, the song is a crown jewel:  A combination of rock, pop, jazz, blues and old school funk.  The band is in hyper-drive as they lay down fast-paced, up tempo grooves on this unforgettable musical treat.  Sara and the musicians are joyful performing this celebratory delight.

I highly recommend Sara’s live set compilation. For those who do not yet own a copy of the new album, here is the link to order this outstanding performance from Niemietz and her band.  Available in different formats:  Vinyl, DVD, CD and Digital Download:   https://www.saraniemietz.com/music

With anyone who is new to Sara’s music, her “twentytwenty” album is an excellent introduction and overview of the music Niemietz has recorded over the past 10 years.  No matter if you have been a fan for years or just learning about Sara’s music for the first time:  The “twentytwenty”  live set should be considered a priority, for adding to all personal music libraries.

Photo of Sara Niemietz by Jeff Xander Photography

The year of 2020 has been extremely hard, unpredictable and sometimes down right depressing for those around the world.  This is especially true for music artists.  With live concerts not being an option during COVID-19 pandemic, performers like Sara has turned negative situations into positive outcomes.

I imagine that Sara will be singing a cover of Wet Willie’s 1974 hit, “Keep on Smilin” into the year 2021.

“Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain

Rollin with the changes til the sun comes out again

Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain

Rollin with the changes, singin’ this refrain”

Turning lemons into lemonade is what Sara Niemietz has done throughout the year of 2020.  I am confident that she will continue the same course of action until Coronavirus has subsided in our world.  Keep on smiling, Sara!  Rock on!

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Artist Profiles, Music, Virginia Artists

The Brothers Young: Virginia Bluegrass Phenoms

Traditional Appalachian stringed instrumental mountain music has always been an important part of Southwestern Virginia’s heritage. In our portion of Virginia, we celebrate the rich legacy of two Appalachian mountain music pioneers:  The Carter Family, founders of country music and Dr. Ralph Stanley, from the first generation of prominent bluegrass musicians.

Since the early formation of Appalachian mountain music, the bluegrass genre of music has flourished in Southwestern Virginia. There is now a new generation of musicians playing bluegrass in my home city of Roanoke: The Brothers Young.

The Brothers Young are a duo of actual siblings:  Ayden and Blane Young.  Older brother Ayden is 14 and plays banjo, while Blane handles mandolin duties at age 10. Parents for these talented bluegrass performers are Melissa and Chad Young of Roanoke.

Ayden and Blane have been playing together for the past two years. Their mother Melissa Young provided the following text on how her sons became a musical bluegrass duo:

“The Brothers Young is a brother duo playing bluegrass in the mountains of Roanoke, Virginia.  Close to the Crooked Road – Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail of SW Virginia and heart of traditional music. Their love for Bluegrass music came from growing up listening to classics such as Flatt & Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Osborne Brothers and many more.

Ayden found an old banjo at his grandparents’ house about 3 years ago and it was an instant connection!  He had to learn “Foggy Mtn. Breakdown.”  We were given a mandolin to borrow from a family at church since they knew Ayden was into bluegrass, but his younger brother Blane took to the mandolin and the Brothers Young was born.”

My first experience hearing the Brothers Young play music live was during May 2019, at an Anglican parish, Church of the Holy Spirit (COTHS) in Roanoke.  The event was celebrating the 30-year anniversary of Quigg Lawrence, being lead pastor for the COTHS congregation.  Lawrence is also a Bishop with the Anglican Church in North America.

Bishop Lawrence loves bluegrass music and he invited guitarist/vocalist Junior Sisk from Ferrum, Virginia, to perform music at this celebration. Ayden and Blane joined Sisk that afternoon to play various bluegrass tunes.

The second encounter that I had hearing TBY was earlier this year at Church of the Holy Spirit, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In February, COTHS had a chili cook-off fundraising event, to raise funds for Rwanda missions.  Brothers Ayden and Blane provided music throughout the event that was pleasing to my ears.

In preparation for me writing this music message on TBY, I had the opportunity to speak with Ayden, Blane and their mother Melissa, with a 30-minute interview via Zoom.  We spoke on a wide variety of topics, including playing with Junior Sisk and recording a couple of bluegrass songs at Mountain Fever Studios in Willis, Virginia.

During my interview, I asked the Blane and Ayden when they started listening to bluegrass music?  Ayden attributes listening to old bluegrass records when visiting his grandfather, Allen Worrell of Courtland, Virginia as a younger boy. The Brothers Young were also exposed to other types of music genres, by their parents Chad and Melissa.

The pivotal moment for heightened awareness of bluegrass music came during 2017 when Ayden brought home an old beaten-up banjo from his grandparents’ home. Soon after, Ayden started taking banjo lessons and his love for the instrument grew. Just two years later, Ayden placed 2nd at the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention for Youth banjo during August 2019.

Ayden playing “Shuckin’ the Corn” and winning 2nd place at Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention for Youth Banjo. August 2019.

Ayden disclosed to me that he considers Earl Scruggs as his biggest influence with the three-finger banjo picking style. The older brother is also versatile and accomplished, playing two other instruments:  Guitar and the piano. Ayden is talented with his piano skills and has composed a few songs with this instrument, including a tune called, “Roanoke Rag.”

Blane is the quiet member of TBY and plays the mandolin.  Considering that he took up his instrument just two years ago, his mandolin dexterity is strong and his skills continue to improve on a monthly basis.  It is impressive to me how smooth Blane performs when playing his mandolin. Ricky Skaggs is the bluegrass artist that the younger brother admires, in relation to excellent mandolin musicians.

Obviously, music is a big part in the lives of Blane and Ayden.  Spirituality also plays an important role with the daily routines for the boys.  An important mentor is Bishop Quigg Lawrence, who provides both musical and spiritual guidance for the Brothers Young.

I asked Bishop Lawrence for some of his opinions on the Brothers Young as he has watched the boys grow with their musical talents over the past three years: 

“It has been really fun to watch these boys progress in their musicianship.  They have gotten really good, really fast.  I remember the first time I heard Ayden play banjo, I thought, “that little dude is pretty good and has potential.”   At the time he had been playing for maybe a year.”

“Blane is a kid to watch.  Instead of chopping rhythm, (his little hands are too small for four finger chords), he mainly plays lead.  With his current rate of progress, by the time he is 16 he will be turning heads and able to play with most anyone. Crowds find little Blane, endearing; He just grins from ear to ear and “goes for it.”

“One of the things I love most about these boys has nothing to do with their talent.  They are humble and know that the Lord has given them these talents.  They are never preachy but neither are they shy to give the Lord credit.”

October 2020 has been an exciting month for the Brothers Young.  The duo had two Roanoke TV interviews after the release of their debut single, “Pretty Polly.”  TBY spoke with Melissa Gaona on the WDBJ, “7 @ Four” show and then were featured on the WFXR, “Loving Living Local” program by Kianna Price.

Both of the Young brothers TV appearances focused on the duo recording two songs at Mountain Fever Studios in Willis, Virginia, with well-established bluegrass artists.  Ayden and Blane expressed to me how thankful they were for the opportunity to be with Junior Sisk and the other musicians assembled for their debut recording experience.

The Brothers Young had an outstanding lineup of musicians according to Melissa Young:

“The boys got an amazing opportunity to collaborate with some amazing musicians back in August.  Ayden plays banjo and Blane added mandolin chops.  The amazing vocals from Junior Sisk and Heather Berry Mabe.  On mandolin: Johnathan Dillon, guitar: Heather Mabe, fiddle: Doug Bartlett, bass: Scott Mulvahill. 

On that hot summer day in August, Blane and Ayden recorded two songs with the consummate bluegrass band: “Pretty Polly” and “Little Birdie.” Also in the studio that day was Quigg Lawrence, who was the connection between Junior Sisk and TBY coming together to record music with the bluegrass all-star musicians.

Here are some observations that Lawrence had when he saw the Brothers Young in the recording studio for the first time:

“I was struck by how confident these kids were in the studio.  At their age, I would have wet my pants to play in a recording studio with one of the best in the country, but they just jumped right in and played their hearts out.  When Junior Sisk and his band heard them play during the warm up at Mountain Fever Studio, I THINK THEIR JAWS DROPPED. Sisk could not believe how much the boys had improved in one year.”

Two weeks ago, “Pretty Polly” was the first TBY song to be released as a single.  The debut tune features vocals by Junior Sisk and Heather Mabe. The second TBY single to be released will be “Little Birdie” on November 13.  Here is the link to purchase the “Pretty Polly” single: https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/thebrothersyoungwithjuniorsiskandheathermabe/pretty-polly

I enjoyed speaking with Ayden and Blane about playing bluegrass music and being in a recording studio for the first time. At the end of our Zoom conversation, I asked the brothers about their plans for the future: Is playing bluegrass music for a living something that the brothers want to pursue when they become adults?

The consensus among the Brothers Young on future bluegrass career plans are unclear at this time.  Both Ayden and Blane said they wanted to attend college after graduation from high school and explore different options with career paths.

Blane and Ayden also proclaimed wisdom to me when they shared how they wanted to be guided by the path that God was directing for them, as they grow from boyhood into adults. Being a positive Christian witness is important for TBY.

Official Facebook page for the Brothers Young: https://www.facebook.com/thebrothersyoung/

Official YouTube channel for the Brothers Young videos: https://www.youtube.com/user/mamaov2kids

For the immediate future, playing bluegrass music is a focal point for the Brothers Young.  They are committed to improving their banjo and mandolin skills, wholeheartedly maintaining excellence as musicians. 

I am encouraged to see the dedication and loyalty that Ayden and Blane show as they endeavor to hone their craft of playing bluegrass music together.  Obviously, we do not know what the future holds in store for the bluegrass boys. I am confident the Brothers Young of Roanoke will be a positive force within the local Southwestern Virginia community from this point forward. Rock on!

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1975 Superior Singles & WROV Roanoke Memories

As I think back upon the beginning of my radio career, the opening lyrics of “Old Days” by Chicago seems to an appropriate introduction about small radio markets during 1975.

Old days, good times I remember

Fun days filled with simple pleasures

Take me back to a world gone away

Memories seem like yesterday

I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia and we didn’t have many choices to hear new music.  For TV viewing in 1975, there were only 4 options:  Local affiliates for CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS. On the radio side of broadcasting, Roanoke had 7 AM and 5 FM stations.  Of the seven AM stations, here is the breakdown of formats:

  • Top 40
  • Middle of the Road (MOR)
  • News/Talk
  • Country
  • Religious (2 stations)
  • R&B/Soul

Over on the FM band, there was even less variety:

  • Beautiful Music (2 stations)
  • Public Radio
  • Religious
  • MOR

While other radio markets had viable strong FM stations playing contemporary music such as Top 40, album rock and country back in 1975, Roanoke listeners still had to rely on AM stations to provide them with up-to-date popular music.  It took another 5 years before FM radio took hold in the Roanoke area, with the advent of K92 (WXLK) 92.3 FM on January 1st, 1980.

During the halfway point of the 70’s decade, Top 40 outlet WROV 1240 AM dominated the Roanoke radio market. The station was small in radio power:  Transmitting only 1,000 watts in the daytime and 250 watts at night.  Even though WROV’s coverage area was only 25 miles wide, the station totally controlled radio listenership within the Roanoke Valley.

I started my first job in radio at age 18, working for WROV during April 1974. I was a student at Virginia Western Community College, obtaining an Associate Degree in Radio & TV Broadcasting.

At WROV, I was hired to be a remote engineer by the Top 40 radio station.  My responsibilities at the station included setting up equipment for remote broadcasts, running the soundboard and playing records, while a WROV DJ was in charge of announcing duties.

WROV DJ Larry Bly and Music Director David Levine. Photo courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson & the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

My first remote broadcast with WROV in April ‘74 was with DJ Larry Bly at the Roanoke Catholic High School “Spring Carnival” event. My last worked remote for the station was with Starr Stevens at Discount Records, Tanglewood Mall in November 1975.

In between my debut with Bly and farewell broadcast with Stevens, I worked around 20 remote broadcasts with legendary WROV DJ Bart Prater.  Some of the other DJs whom I worked multiple remotes with include Chuck Holloway, Rob O’Brady, Rich Randall and Dave Hunter.

Chuck Holloway and Dave Woodson at WROV remote. Discount Records: Tanglewood Mall, Roanoke, Virginia.

Most remotes were in the 3 to 4-hour range.  The longest remote I worked was on Labor Day 1975 at Lowe’s on Orange Avenue with a legendary WROV DJ from the 60’s:  Jack Fisher. It was a “solid gold holiday weekend” and I played all 50’s and early 60’s rock & roll that day.

WROV DJ Jack Fisher in front of the station building. Photo courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson & the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Many of my fondest memories working at WROV are with Bart Prater.  He started at the station in 1968, coming from WOLD Marion, Virginia.  Prater spent the next 13 years of employment at WROV, before moving over to crosstown Top 40 giant K92 during 1981.

Although Prater was a shy person by nature, his radio personally came alive when the microphone switch was turned on from mute:  Prater was a shining star and delivered big as the afternoon drive DJ for WROV.

While I was employed at the station, Prater won the 1975 Billboard Magazine Medium-Market Radio Personality of the Year award.  After winning the award, I remember Bart telling me that Top 40 KILT AM Houston had offered him a job but he turned them down. Prater said, “I didn’t like the big city and Roanoke is my home.  I decided to stay here.”

Bart Prater in WROV studio. Photo courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson & the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett

I have two memories working with Bart Prater that stand out for me.  When WROV first bought a wireless microphone for the station, Bart and I were at Lakeside Amusement Park in Salem for an afternoon remote broadcast.  Around halfway through the broadcast, Prater said he wanted to test the new wireless mic by riding on the “Shooting Star” roller coaster, while live on the air.

Bart had faith that the wireless mic would work throughout the roller coaster ride and decided to test it out: Live on WROV, without a test run. Prater then hopped on the Shooting Star and recited the Lord’s prayer just before descending down the ride’s first drop.

Prater made history that day as he successfully spoke to his WROV radio audience live, while riding on the Shooting Star Roller Coaster at Lakeside Amusement Park.  Although there were a few seconds of drop out with mic coverage, Prater could be heard loud and clear throughout his historic ride. It was an event that I will never forget.

A framed WROV 70’s poster that is owned by DJ Barry Michaels: Who worked at WROV from 1978 through 1981 and provided his photo to be used here on this music blog.

My second most memorable activity with Bart happened on the first day of spring 1975. It was sunny and warm that day in Roanoke and Prater wanted to do a remote broadcast outside of the WROV building this afternoon. The station’s studios were located on the corner of 15th St and Cleveland Avenue, along the banks of the Roanoke River.

I happened to be at the station that day and Prater asked me to run the main board for a couple of hours of his afternoon DJ shift, while he did a remote broadcast outside of the WROV building.  I eagerly said yes and jumped at the chance to do a remote broadcast:  This time inside of the main WROV studio while Prater sat outside of the building with a wireless mic for the remote broadcast.

Prater got to soak up the sun at the place he fondly called “PD Bottom” and I got to run the board inside the main studio. It was thrilling for this 19-year old teen. During my two hours running the board, I played the WROV number 1 song twice that day: “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John.

During my time working at WROV, we had many famous rock artists drop by the station for promotional visits.  The biggest personality to appear at our studios was Wolfman Jack.

Larry Bly, Bart Prater, Wolfman Jack and Chuck Holloway in WROV studio. April 1975. Photo courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson & the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett

Canadian rock band the Guess Who performed at the Roanoke Civic Center in April and they were going to play their summer of 1974 hit, “Clap For the Wolfman” at this show.  Joining them for this one song was legendary DJ Wolfman Jack.

The day before the Guess Who concert, “The Wolfman” came by the WROV studio to be interviewed by DJ Chuck Holloway on his evening air shift.  Wolfman Jack took over the controls on the WROV board and conducted a two-hour air shift for the station that night. WROV DJs Larry Bly, Bart Prater and Chuck Holloway all were in studio when “The Wolfman” made his historic Roanoke on-air appearance.

Larry Bly and Wolfman Jack at WROV studio. April 1975. Photo Courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson & the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Two other highlights happened for me at WROV during 1975:

  • I met members of the Average White Band and jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie while working a remote broadcast at Discount Records, located at Tanglewood Mall.
  • When Suzi Quatro was in Roanoke for a concert, I met her inside the WROV building.

WROV air staff outside of the WROV building. Fall 1975. Photo courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson & the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

The rest of this music blog is what I consider to be the best songs that I played on WROV in 1975.  I will be counting down my favorite top 20 songs from 45 years ago.

Before I start my Top 20 countdown, here are five of my favorite songs that charted below the top 20:  Either in Roanoke on WROV or nationally by Billboard and Cash Box charts:

  • Amie: Pure Prairie League
  • Tangled Up in Blue—Bob Dylan
  • Bloody Well Right—Supertramp
  • Big Yellow Taxi—Joni Mitchell
  • Young Americans—David Bowie

Now I will be counting down my favorite top 20 songs from 1975.  All the songs that I have selected meet the following criteria:

  • The song had to peak at number 20 or higher on either the Billboard Hot 100 or the Cash Box Top 100 charts.
  • I deem the songs to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.
  • My top 20 selections are personal favorites and still sound fresh to me 45 years later.

Rob O’Brady in the WROV studio. Photo courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson & the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

As Casey Kasem used to say on American Top 40:  On with the countdown:

  1. Can’t Get It Out of my Head—Electric Light Orchestra.

Peaked at #9 Billboard Hot 100

Penned by Jeff Lynne, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head’ was the first top ten single for ELO in America.  This pop ballad is aided by the exceptional cello and violin instrumentation.

  1. Low Rider—War

Peaked at #7 Billboard Hot 100

Funk rock band War delivers a tasty treat with the toe-tapping song, “Low Rider.”  A pulsating bass line and superb saxophone playing, brings clarity to the song about lowrider hot rod cars.

  1. Calypso—John Denver.

Peaked #1 Billboard Hot 100: As B-side to “I’m Sorry.” 9/75 (One Week)

Peaked #2 Billboard Hot 100: Later as A-side hit 10/75 (Four Weeks)

John Denver composed a tribute song for ocean conservationist Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his research ship, the Calypso in 1975.  Originally the B-side of the “I’m Sorry” singles, “Calypso” actually became the bigger hit, by logging 4 consecutive weeks at number 2 as an A-side hit.

  1. Old Days—Chicago

Peaked at #5 Billboard Hot 100

Chicago band member James Pankow wrote the song “Old Days” that reminisces about childhood memories.  With the brass instrument combination of trombone, trumpet and saxophone, this tune shines musically by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rock band.

  1. Pick Up the Pieces—Average White Band

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

As I stated above, I met Hamish Stuart and the rest of the Average White Band in 1975 while working at WROV.  “Pick Up the Pieces” is basically an instrumental and the music phenomenal: Saxophonist Roger Ball is exceptional laying down the groove on this tune.

  1. I’m Not in Love—10cc

Peaked at #2 Billboard Hot 100

One of the most distinctive singles of 1975 is “I’m Not in Love.”  10cc spent countless hours and weeks in the studio creating this masterpiece: Recording musical back tracks and multitracked vocals on the biggest American hit for the band.

14. #9 Dream—John Lennon

Peaked at #9 Billboard Hot 100

To be sure, “#9 Dream” has nonsensical lyrics: “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé.” Obviously, John Lennon had recorded other songs about the #9 before: The Beatles, “Revolution 9”and “One After 909.”  No matter the lyrical content, this was one of Lennon’s best singles during the mid 70’s.

  • Baker’s Dozen: These 1980 songs are the cream of the crop.
  1. Magic—Pilot

Peaked at #5 Billboard Hot 100

Scottish rock band Pilot blended “Sunshine Rock” and “Power Pop Rock” to achieve their only American hit record with their song, Magic.” Infectious guitar riffs and bright, sunny lyrics, helped to create the finest “one hit wonder” single of 1975.

  1. Sister Golden Hair—America

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

Among the many soft rock bands of the 70’s, America was one of the most successful in that genre of music. “Sister Golden Hair” features dueling 12 string and slide guitars, plus excellent harmonies by band members Dan Peek, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell.

  1. Black Water—Doobie Brothers

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

Nationally, “Black Water” was a hit during March 1975. It was a hit much earlier in Roanoke as WROV’s music director Chuck Holloway stated playing the song as an album cut during September 1974.  The Doobie Brothers song became a number 1 song in Roanoke and then Warner Brothers Records released “Black Water” as a single.

WROV received a gold record for being the first radio station to play and break “Black Water” as a hit song in America. You can read more about how WROV’s Chuck Holloway helped to make the Doobie Brothers song popular, on a music blog message that I published last October:  1974 Singles:  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

  1. Shining Star—Earth Wind & Fire

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

My love for Earth Wind & Fire started when I played “Shining Star” for the first time on WROV.  The up-tempo groove that the funk/R&B/pop/rock band performs on the song is marvelous. I feel that the 45-rpm single of “Shining Star” is 2 minutes and 50 seconds of perfection.

  1. Jive Talkin’—Bee Gees

Peaked at #1  Billboard Hot 100

The Gibb Brothers made a comeback with “Jive Talkin’” during 1975. An excellent bass line sets the rhythmic tone for the tune.  Combining the opening scratchy guitar with a funky synth bass line, I consider this song to be the Bee Gees musical crown jewel, with their vast catalog of hit records.

  1. Junior’s Farm—Paul McCartney & Wings

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100

I have always enjoyed the smokin’ hot rocking sound and whimsical lyrics of “Junior’s Farm.”  Wings guitarists Jimmy McCulloch and Denny Laine trade superb guitar licks, while Paul McCartney’s bass chord progression is solid. The record proved that Sir Paul could record more than just silly love songs.

  1. Fame—David Bowie

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

Early 70’s androgynous appearance of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust transformed into a more mainstream look when “Fame” became a funk/rock hit.  John Lennon helped co-write the song, sings backup and repeats the word, “Fame” multiple times with a quirky falsetto expanding three octaves, towards the end of the record.

  1. Killer Queen—Queen

Peaked at #12 Billboard Hot 100

Outstanding vocal harmonies are exhibited by Queen as they had their first hit record in America with “Killer Queen.”  Written by band front man Freddie Mercury, the song has a striking bass line and a prominent guitar solo by Brain May.

  1. Miracles—Jefferson Starship

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100

60’s rock band Jefferson Airplane reinvented itself in the mid 70’s and became Jefferson Starship. Marty Balin wrote and sang lead on “Miracles.”  Highlight on the song include, David Freiberg’s organ, Papa John Creach on violin, Paul Kantner’s guitar and backing vocals by Grace Slick.

  1. You’re No Good—Linda Ronstadt

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

Linda Ronstadt reached superstardom with her cover version of “You’re No Good.” Backing musicianship on the song is impressive.  A driving bass line, superior guitar riffs and a sparse drumming pattern, generates a haunting melody.  I have fond memories of Ronstadt singing this song when I attended her Roanoke concert during May 1975.

  1. Free Bird—Lynyrd Skynyrd

Peaked at #19 Billboard Hot 100

Some may disagree, but I believe that “Free Bird” is the greatest Southern Rock song of all time.  Written by Lynyrd Skynyrd band members Allen Collins Ronnie Van Zant, the song has two distinct parts:  It starts as a power ballad and then transforms into blazing multiple guitar instrumental jam for the remainder of the tune.  Without a doubt, “Free Bird’ rocks!

  1. One of These Nights—Eagles

Peaked at #1. Billboard Hot 100

Coming in at number two on my 1975 countdown is “One of These Nights” by rock band Eagles. Don Henley sings lead while Randy Meisner contributes backup high harmony, on this song that features tight harmonies, urgent beats and superb guitar hooks.

Eagles was my favorite band when I worked at WROV and I had the pleasure of attending one of their concerts at the Roanoke Civic Center during May 1975. With Linda Ronstadt opening up for the Eagles, this was the best rock concert that I attended during the 70’s.  I loved hearing “One of These Nights” performed live that evening in Roanoke.

  1. Born to Run—Bruce Springsteen

Peaked at #17 Cash Box and #23 Billboard

Although “Born to Run” wasn’t a big hit on WROV, or on Top 40 radio, it has become the signature song for Bruce Springsteen.  It is my number 1 favorite song of 1975.

Just a couple of months after the “Born to Run” album and title track single was released, Springsteen made history:  The Boss became the first rock artist to simultaneously land of the covers of Time and Newsweek magazine on October 27th, 1975.

I love how Phil Spector’s, “Wall of Sound” musical production technique is utilized by Springsteen and Clarence Clemons’ excellent saxophone playing on “Born to Run.”

My friend Dave Delaney of Roanoke recently wrote to me his thoughts on Springsteen’s break though hit, and his critique of the song is spot on:

“I’ve always loved the song “Born to Run” for multiple reasons: It has all the qualities of a perfect rock song with all its ducks in a row:

  • A great hook.
  • Heart-felt longing lyrics that make you care about what’s going to happen to the characters, with a hint of rebellion and teen passion.
  • A blistering saxophone solo.
  • Tonal contour, with Bruce sounding alternately exhausted and energized in the bridge.
  • * Add in its basic epic and anthemic quality, and it makes a complete musical statement in a tidy and radio-friendly 4-1/2 minutes.”

As Dave Delaney described above, “Born to Run” is a perfect rock song.  This epic ode is my absolute favorite single that I played on WROV during 1975.

Now that I have submitted my favorite song listing for the Top 20 singles of 1975, I am curious to find out your thoughts on the biggest hits from 45 years ago. What do you consider to be the best Top 40 singles from the midway point of the 70’s decade?

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with the critique of my favorite songs from 1975.  Your top songs maybe be completely different than my selections.  There are no right or wrong answers:  Just various opinions on the songs that I played on WROV during 1975.

I also would love to read any comments that you may have about WROV, Roanoke radio, or any other opinions about 1975 Top 40 radio across the American landscape.

My dog Penny Lane listening to Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Born to Run” on August 25th, 2020.

The memories that I have playing superior singles and working at legendary Top 40 WROV Roanoke in 1975, remains fresh in my mind.  I will remember and cherish those days forever.

This message started with opening lyrics from Chicago’s, “Old Days” and will close with ending words from the same excellent 1975 composition.  Rock on!

In my mind and in my heart to stay

Darkened dreams of good times gone away

Days of love and feeling fancy free

Days of magic still so close to me

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1980 Top 40 Hits: Still Excellent 40 Years Later

 

1980 was a transitional year.  Musically, disco was dead and it was prior to the synth-pop, MTV explosion that happened the following year.  The backlash against disco was strong.

It was a diverse mixture of songs that dominated Top 40 radio during 1980.  Yacht Rock, adult contemporary power ballads, country crossovers and traditional classic rock ruled the airways.

Songs from films were also popular on the radio in 1980.  Music from “Urban Cowboy” and “Xanadu” were on the hot rotations of many Top 40 outlets.

Adult Oriented Rock (AOR) FM radio stations flourished during this year, taking away listeners from Top 40 formatted stations.  AOR FM radio in 1980 tended to have less talk than Top 40 stations and played mostly what is now considered, “Classic Rock.”

As many folks gravitated towards AOR radio, the classic rock genre of music flourished.  AOR was different from traditional Top 40 radio:  These new AOR FM stations played multiple, deep cut album selections, instead of just hit singles.

If I had been programming an AOR radio station during 1980, here are the ten albums that I would have featured on my station’s hot rotation.  There are no rankings with my list.

Album cover: “The River” by Bruce Springsteen. One of my favorite albums from 1980.

The River. Bruce Springsteen

Zenyatta Mondatta—The Police

Double Fantasy—John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Boy—U2

Glass Houses—Billy Joel

 

Back in Back—AC/DC

Remain in Light—Talking Heads

Hi Infidelity—RRO Speedwagon

The Game—Queen

Making Movies—Dire Straits

Album cover for “Boy” by U2. One of my favorite albums from 1980.

Other areas of transition for music during 1980:

  • Eagles broke up for the first time as band members could not stand, tolerate or co-exist with each other after completing their summer touring schedule.
  • Led Zeppelin disbanded after Member John Bonham was found dead in September
  • Elton John played to a crowd of 400,000 people with a free concert in New York’s Central park.
  • John Lennon was assassinated in New York on December 8th.
  • Sony Walkman was introduced as a new portable way listening to music.
  • Cross genres of artists working together to create hit songs: Barry Gibb with Barbara Streisand and Lionel Ritchie with Kenny Rogers

Changes also happened in my personal life during 1980.  I graduated from James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia and located back to my Roanoke, Virginia home in May.  I have fond memories of my time attending JMU and working at radio station WMRA.

My parents Andy and Shirley Woodson, along with my sisters Kathryn and Lisa:  With me just after my graduation from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. May 1980

While I was a student at JMU from 1978 through 1980, I was employed by WMRA Harrisonburg, a Public Radio station serving the Shenandoah Valley.  As a college student, I always scheduled my JMU classes not to interfere with my various shifts at the radio station.

During my senior year at JMU, I was the producer and radio host for the program called “Country Afternoon.”  This daily Monday through Friday mid afternoon show featured bluegrass, folk and old-time country music.  Below is an aircheck of me hosting Country Afternoon on 3/31/80.

Another program that I hosted on a regular basis was an album rock show called “After Hours.”

This AOR broadcast happened Monday through Friday between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM. I also have an aircheck of when I hosted After Hours on 4/1/80 below.

Since I started my radio career at legendary Top 40 WROV 1240 AM Roanoke in 1974, I always have been drawn listening to any radio station that featured the Top 40 format.

My time in Harrisonburg gave me an opportunity to hear various Top 40 stations on any given day.  The local Top 40 station that most JMU students listened to was WQPO 101.7 FM in Harrisonburg, I didn’t care for that station as it was automated with no live DJs.  I preferred tuning in WWWV 97.5 FM in Charlottesville as they were an AOR formatted station.

To get my fix of Top 40 radio while I was a student at JMU, I would listen to stations out of Richmond, Roanoke and the Washington DC radio markets.  Picking up these stations tended to be hit or miss, depending on the weather conditions. Cloudy days seemed to be the best opportunity hearing these signals coming in strong at my Harrisonburg home.

These are the Top 40 radio signals that I could pick up on a regular basis in Harrisonburg during 1980:

  • K92 FM 92.3 Roanoke
  • Q99 FM 99.1 Roanoke
  • Q94 FM 94.5 Richmond
  • WPGC 95.5 FM Washington DC Market
  • Q107 107.3 FM Washington DC Market

How I listened to music in 1980. My parents gave me a Sony “Boom Box” for Christmas that year.

Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 1980, I remember listing to Roanoke Top 40 stations K92 and WROV on my new Sony Boom Box, as they played the biggest hits during that year.  What were the most popular singles of 1980?   Here are the Top 10 Songs on the 1980 Year-end Top 100 Songs according to Billboard:

  1. Call Me—Blondie
  2. Another Brick in the Wall, Part II—Pink Floyd
  3. Magic—Olivia Newton John
  4. Rock With You—Michael Jackson
  5. Do That To Me One More Time—Captain & Tennille
  6. Crazy Little Thing Called Love—Queen
  7. Coming Up—Paul McCartney
  8. Funkytown Lipps Inc
  9. It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me—Billy Joel
  10. The Rose—Bette Midler

 

 

For the rest of this message, I will be counting down my Top 20 singles from 1980.  If a song didn’t make the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles chart of 1980, then I didn’t consider listing that song on my Top 20 countdown.

The 20 songs from 1980 that I have selected all meet certain criteria:  These selections happen to be my Top 20 personal favorites from 1980:  The songs are not dated and still sound fresh to me 40 years later.  I deem the songs to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.

Before I reveal my Top 20 songs, I want to share with you some of the artists who charted with either double or triple hits within the Billboard Top 100 chart for 1980:

Eagles had 3 songs in the Top 100:

  • Heartbreak Tonight
  • I Can’t Tell You Why
  • The Long Run

Billy Joel

  • It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me
  • You May be Right

Christopher Cross

  • Ride Like the Wind
  • Sailing

Linda Ronstadt

  • How Do I Make You
  • Hurt So Bad

Fleetwood Mac

  • Sara
  • Tusk

My go to reference for highest peaking chart positions with my Top 20 songs is, “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” by Joel Whitburn. I consider Whitburn’s book to be the “bible” of Top 40 music reference and still proudly own a hard copy of this excellent book.

 

The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn

Without further ado, here are my 20 favorite songs from 1980:

 

  1. Fire Lake—Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band

 

Peaked at #6:  67th biggest song of 1980

 

The first single from the album, “Against the Wind” was an excellent departure for Michigan native Bob Seger.  “Fire Lake” utilizes an acoustic guitar, which provides a wonderful mixture of R&B, folk and country blended sounds.

  1. Breakdown Dead Ahead—Boz Scaggs

 

Peaked at #15:  97th biggest song of 1980

Yacht Rock was huge on Top 40 radio in 1980 and singer-songwriter Boz Scaggs had two terrific songs in that genre to chart that year. “Jojo” and “Breakdown Dead Ahead” further cemented the terrific guitarist as a force musically, combining smooth jazz, R&B and soft rock.

  1. You May Be Right—Billy Joel

 

Peaked at #7:  75th biggest song of 1980

The first of two Billy Joel songs on my countdown, “You May Be Right” was a straight ahead, up-tempo rocker: Which was quite different from the piano based, power ballads that the Bronx, New York singer had recorded earlier in his career. The first single from the “Glass Houses” album, helped to solidify Joel as a premier American male vocalist during this time period.

  1. Biggest Part of Me—Ambrosia

 

Peaked at #3:  27th biggest song of 1980

Excellent musicianship is a calling card for the band Ambrosia and their huge summer of 1980 hit “Biggest Part of Me.”  Blending of vocal harmonies with percussion, saxophone, organ and guitar, makes this tune a classic Yacht Rock winner.

  1. We Don’t Talk Anymore—Cliff Richard

 

Peaked at #7:  45th biggest song of 1980

A world-wide smash, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” was the biggest selling single for Cliff Richard.  With the song peaking at number 7 in America, Richard became the first artist to reach the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 during 4 separate decades:  The 50s, 60s, 70s and the 80’s.

  1. Don’t Do Me Like That—Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

 

Peaked at #10:  64th biggest song of 1980

The first of two Tom Petty songs on my countdown, “Don’t Do me Like That” became the first Top 10 hit for the leader of the Heartbreakers.  The interplay of dueling guitars and the urgent vocal delivery by Petty brings unity to this Heartland Rock classic tune.

  1. Cool Change—Little River Band

 

Peaked at #10:  56th biggest song of 1980

One of the biggest Australian groups of the 70’s, Little River Band ushered in 1980 with their flowing masterpiece: Enjoying a solitary lifestyle with nature, by sailing on the ocean. “Cool Change” was named by the Australasian Performing Right Association in 2001, as one of the Top 30 Australian songs of all time.

  • Baker’s Dozen:  These 1980 songs are the cream of the crop.

 

  1. This Is It—Kenny Loggins

 

Peaked at #11:  28th biggest song of 1980

Two of the biggest names in Yacht Rock are Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald and this duo co-wrote the song “This Is It.”  Their collaboration included McDonald singing backup vocals on the song and it won a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 1981. The paring of Loggins and McDonald on this tune is Yacht Rock royalty.

  1. Heartbreaker—Pat Benatar

 

Peaked at #23:  83rd biggest song of 1980

Nobody rocked harder than Pat Benatar on her breakthrough hit “Heartbreaker” during the first 3 months of 1980.  With hot rocking, flame throwing vocals and blazing guitars laying down catchy hooks, Benatar’s career soared in popularity during the rest of the 80s decade.

  1. Ride Like the Wind—Christopher Cross

 

Peaked at #2:  17th biggest song of 1980

The first of two Christopher Cross songs on my countdown, “Ride Like the Wind” was the first single released from the self-titled debut “Christopher Cross” album.  Produced by Michael Omartian, and backup vocals by Michael McDonald, this hit paved the way for Cross to be the king of soft rock singing during the early 80’s.

  1. Magic—Olivia Newton John

 

Peaked at #1:  3rd biggest song of 1980

“Magic” was the lead single from the “Xanadu” soundtrack: Which featured Olivia Newton-John both singing and acting in this musical fantasy film.  The song spent 4 weeks at number one during the summer of 1980 and is Newton-John’s second biggest hit of all time. “Magic” is yet another song that is regularly played on SiriusXM’s Yacht Rock radio here in year 2020.

  1. Babe—Styx

 

Peaked at #1:  20th biggest song of 1980

Styx band member Dennis DeYoung wrote the song, “Babe” as a birthday present for his wife Suzanne.  This power ballad became the only number 1 song by Styx and was the lead single from the album “Cornerstone” and features a tremendous guitar solo by Tommy Shaw.

  1. Romeo’s Tune—Steve Forbert

 

Peaked at #11:  60th biggest song of 1980

An excellent example of Power Pop Rock is “Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert.  It was an international smash but is considered a “one hit wonder” in America. Interestingly, the title of Forbert’s only Billboard Top 40 hit doesn’t appear in the lyrics of the song.

  1. It’s Still Rock and Roll To me—Billy Joel

 

Peaked at #1:  9th biggest song of 1980

Billy Joel’s second song on my countdown is, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”  Lyrics of Joel’s first number 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was a reaction to newer music styles like, New Wave and Punk Rock.  This ode to “Rock and Roll” has an awesome saxophone solo and was the biggest hit for summer 1980.

  1. Cars—Gary Numan

 

Peaked at #9:  12th biggest song of 1980

Perhaps the catchiest song during 1980 was “Cars” by Gary Neman.  I describe the song as, New Wave meets conventional pop/rock.  Traditional rhythms of guitar, bass and drums were mixed with keyboard synthesisers, and helped to produce a harmonious effect.  Neman’s single is considered one of the best “one hit wonders” of the 80’s.

  1. Refugee—Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

 

Peaked at #15:  100th biggest song of 1980

Tom Petty’s second song on my countdown is “Refugee.”   This has all the elements of a perfect rock song:  Infectious guitar riffs, searing bass lines and strong dominate vocals. Superb melody, plus the call and response during the chorus, makes “Refugee” undeniably an exceptional classic rock song.

  1. Longer—Dan Fogelberg

 

Peaked at #2:  33rd biggest song of 1980

During the 70’s, Dan Fogelberg primarily released rock-oriented songs but his 1980 hit was completely different.  “Longer” was actually a melodic love song, with flowing harmonies and sparse instrumentation. Fogelberg’s crown jewel became a staple at thousands of weddings starting in 1980 and lasting throughout the rest of the decade.

  1. Another Brick in the Wall, Part II—Pink Floyd

 

Peaked at #1:  2nd biggest song of 1980

“We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control” starts the lyrics for “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” which is a track from Pink Floyd’s album, “The Wall.”   Written by Roger Waters, his “rock opera” protest song about rigid schooling is brilliant.  The music incorporates, progressive rock, hard rock and even has elements of disco. Without a doubt, this Pink Floyd single is a shining gem.

  1. Call Me—Blondie

 

Peaked at #1: Ranked 1st:  As the biggest song of 1980

The biggest record of 1980 was “Call Me” by Blondie.  It was the theme song for the film “American Gigolo” and blended various forms of rock music:  New Wave, hard rock and dance rock.  Debbie Harry leads with passionate vocals, while the musicians provides catchy guitar hooks and blazing bass line interfusion. Billboard proclaims, “Call Me” as the 9th best overall single of the 80’s.

  1. Sailing—Christopher Cross

 

Peaked at #1:  32nd biggest songs of 1980

Christopher Cross’ second song on my countdown is “Sailing” and his composition is absolutely my favorite number 1 selection from 1980. Cross won 3 Grammy Awards with his written ode to sailing: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Arrangement of the Year.  His single also holds the distinction of being the “Greatest Yacht Rock” song of all time.  Without a doubt, my number 1 song of 1980 is “Sailing” by Christopher Cross.

For those regular readers of this music blog, it isn’t surprising that a majority of my top selections on the countdown were Yacht Rock songs.  My love for this genre of music was documented two years ago on the message, “This is It: Yacht Rock” on DJ Dave’s Musical Musings blog.

 

My photo of yachts and other boats in the harbor at Camden, Maine.

The second favorite type of music that I favored on my 1980 countdown is Classic Rock.  I do love many other types of music but variations of rock always dominate my preferred classification of musical genres.

Now that I have submitted my favorite song listing for the Top 20 singles of 1980, I am curious to find out your thoughts on the biggest hits from 40 years ago.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with the critique of my favorite songs from 1980.  Your top songs maybe be completely different than my selections.  There are no right or wrong answers:  Just various opinions on the Billboard Top 100 year-end 1980 listing and my Top 20 countdown of favorite songs listed above.

What do you consider to be the best top 40 hits from 1980?  I welcome your thoughts.  The chorus for Billy Joel’s summer of 1980 number 1 hit seems like an appropriate ending to this message:

“Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the new sound

Funny, but it’s still rock and roll to me”

Rock on!

 

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AT40, Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

American Top 40: First Show Debut July 1970

Long ago and far away: Fifty years ago.  July 4th weekend 1970.  The first words and opening sentences spoken by radio host Casey Kasem with the maiden voyage of American Top 40:

“Here we go with the top 40 hits of the nation this week on American Top 40, the best-selling and most played songs from the Atlantic to the Pacific from Canada to Mexico. This is Casey Kasem in Hollywood, and in the next three hours, we’ll count down the 40 most popular hits in the United States this week, hot off the record charts of Billboard magazine for the week ending July 11, 1970.

In this hour at number 32 in the countdown, a song that’s been a hit 4 different time in 19 years! And just about one tune away from the singer with the $10,000 gold hubcaps on his car! Now, on with the countdown!”

With those words by Casey Kasem, the first American Top 40 countdown was launched and underway on Independence Day weekend 1970.  Since July 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the American Top 40 debut, I am going to be looking back on the first broadcast and reminiscing on the music that Kasem played during his commencing show.

American Top 40 (commonly abbreviated to AT40) was started in 1970 and is a syndicated music countdown radio program.  According to Pete Battistini, author of the book, “American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1970’s),” Don Bustany, Tom Rounds, Ron Jacobs and Casey Kasem were the individuals who helped create the AT40 show.

My copy of the book, American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 70’s) by Pete Battistini

If you are a fan with the early years of AT40, I would highly recommend Pete Battistini’s book.  His highlights, information and insights about Casey Kasem and American Top 40 during the 1970’s is excellent.  As Battistini points out in his book, the original AT40 show aired on only 7 radio stations during the 4th of July weekend in 1970. WMEX Boston was among that first group of 7 stations that ran the debut broadcast. Upon the one year anniversary of AT40, 115 stations were carrying the weekly countdown.

One other radio station that aired the AT40 debut show was WPGC Washington.  According to the tribute site WPGC amandfmmorningside.com, “WPGC and WMEX became the first two stations to agree to run the program. By the time of the show’s debut, both stations were among the original 7 affiliates to air it. On WPGC, this occurred on Sunday, July 5, 1970 from 9a-12 noon.”

Below is an audio clip of the original AT40 show that was provided to me by Lee Chambers of the WPGC Washington tribute site. Here is a quote from Chambers about this audio clip:

“WPGC’s ‘Captain Good Guy’ would like to direct your attention to the 50th anniversary of the first American Top 40 show as it would have sounded on WPGC, one of the original 7 stations to carry the program on Sunday, July 5th, 1970 from 9a-12p (EDT), re-created with vintage commercials, promos, jingles, Sound Offs and custom Casey WPGC elements which is available as of right now for your listening pleasure, completely intact and unscoped here.”

Before the advent of AT40, many “top 40 radio stations” published playlists of their biggest hits and had countdown shows featuring the top songs each week.  Major market stations such as WABC New York, WLS Chicago and KHJ Los Angeles all published weekly playlists of their top hits. Surveys from all three of those radio stations can still be viewed on the Internet here in 2020.

WLS Chicago Hit Parade survey for July 6, 1970. Photo courtesy of Pete Battistini.

On the WLS Chicago Hit Parade photo posted above, I am a huge fan of number 40, “Up Around the Bend” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.  John Fogerty’s song had peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 during June 1970 but had fallen off the national chart by the time the first AT40 broadcast happened.

The other Top 40 station in Chicago during the summer of 1970 was WCFL.  Below is a photo of the WCFL Big 10 Countdown for July 6, 1970.

WCFL Chicago Big 10 Countdown Survey for July 6, 1970. Photo courtesy of Pete Battistini.

My interest listening to countdown shows started during the late 60’s, when I discovered rock music on Top 40 WROV 1240 AM Roanoke, Virginia.  Every Sunday afternoon, I would hear legendary WROV DJ’s like Jack Fisher, Fred Frelantz and Bart Prater countdown the Top 40 hits on my transistor radio. My love for music countdowns flourished during this time period.

Also during my early teen years, I would walk to the local Sears record department every week to pick up a copy of the WROV Musicard survey.  Once back home, I would compare my favorite records, verify their new chart positions and pretend I was a DJ “counting down the hits.”

WROV Roanoke Fabulous Forty Musicard: February 16, 1969. Courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson and the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

First knowledge for me of AT40 came during June 1971 when Top 40 WBLU 1480 AM Salem, Virginia starting broadcasting the syndicated show that month.  I fondly remember sitting in the backyard of my Grandmother’s house, listening to my transistor radio and hearing Casey Kasem proclaim that “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones was the number 1 song in America for that week.

A couple of years later in 1973, WBLU dropped AT40 and the program was picked up by WFIR 960 Roanoke.  AT40 remained a fixture on WFIR throughout the 70’s.  During the 80’s, AT40 was aired on WROV AM 1240.  Below is an audio clip of Casey Kasem promoting AT40 on WROV.  The file was provided to me courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson.

In 1970, Billboard Magazine had competition from two other national publications with weekly music charts:  Cash Box and Record World.  As a comparison to the 40 songs Billboard used on the first AT40 broadcast, below is a photo for the Record World “100 Top Pops” chart from July 11, 1970, which was provided to me by Pete Battistini.

Record World 100 Top Pops Survey for July 11, 1970. Photo courtesy of Pete Battistini.

As Battistini pointed out to me when he submitted his photo, Billboard and Record World both have the same records at positions 1 and 40:  “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” by Three Dog Night is at the top of the charts while Marvin Gaye’s, “The End Of the Road” holds down number 40 on each survey.

Before I share the 40 songs that aired on the first AT40 show, here are some observations:

  • Two different songs with the word “Mississippi.”
  • Crosby Stills Nash & Young have two separate singles in the Top 40.
  • The Beatles and Elvis Presley, the top two artists from the 50’s and 60’s both have songs in the Top 10.
  • Marvin Gaye’s song, “The End of the Road” at number 40 is not at the “end” but is actually at the start of the show:  The first song ever played on AT40.

What were the top 40 songs on the first AT40 show that aired on the July 4th weekend 1970?

Here are the songs the Kasem counted down, plus 4 additional oldies:

40 Marvin Gaye – The End Of Our Road

39 Mark Lindsay – Silver Bird

38 Eric Burdon and War – Spill The Wine

37 Crabby Appleton – Go Back

36 B.J. Thomas – I Just Can’t Help Believing

35 Aretha Franklin – Spirit In The Dark

34 John Phillips – Mississippi

33 The Flaming Ember – Westbound #9

32 The Four Tops – It’s All In The Game

31 The 5th Dimension – Save The Country

30 Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young – Ohio

29 Ray Stevens – Everything Is Beautiful

28 The Impressions – Check Out Your Mind!

27 The Moody Blues – Question

26 Stevie Wonder – Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours

25 Wilson Pickett– Sugar, Sugar

24 Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young – Teach Your Children

23 The Poppy Family – Which Way You Goin’ Billy?

Oldie: Bill Cosby – Little Ole Man

22 The Moments – Love On A Two-Way Street

21 Mountain – Mississippi Queen

20 Bread – Make It With You

19 Pacific Gas and Electric – Are You Ready?

18 Charles Wright and The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – Love Land

17 Alive ‘N Kickin’ – Tighter, Tighter

16 White Plains – My Baby Loves Lovin’

15 Miguel Rios – A Song Of Joy

Oldie: Louis Armstrong – Hello, Dolly!

14 Brotherhood Of Man – United We Stand

13 Rare Earth – Get Ready

12 The Five Stairsteps – O-o-h Child

11 The Pipkins – Gimme Dat Ding

10 Vanity Fair – Hitchin’ A Ride

Oldie: Blood, Sweat, and Tears – Spinning Wheel

09 Elvis Presley – The Wonder Of You

08 The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road

07 The Carpenters – (They Long To Be) Close To You

06 Melanie- Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)

05 Freda Payne – Band Of Gold

04 Blues Image – Ride Captain Ride

03 The Temptations – Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)

02 The Jackson 5 – The Love You Save

Oldie: The Rolling Stones – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

01 Three Dog Night – Mama Told Me (Not To Come)  ** 1 week @ no. 1 **

My 45 rpm single of “Everything is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens that I bought in 1970 and still own the record here in 2020.

I have compiled my own listing of favorite songs from the first AT40 show.  Just like Casey Kasem, I am going to countdown my favorite songs:  From number 20 down to the number 1.

My go to reference for highest peaking chart positions with my Top 20 songs is, “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” by Joel Whitburn. I consider Whitburn’s book to be the “bible” of Top 40 music reference and still proudly own a hard copy of this excellent book.

The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn

Staring off my countdown are numbers 20 through 14.  I consider all of these songs between good and great, just below excellent. On a scale of 10, these songs are somewhere around 8.

Now on with the countdown:

  1. Which Way You Going Billy—Poppy Family Featuring Susan Jacks

Peaked at #2:  26th biggest song of 1970

Poppy Family was a wife/husband Canadian duo of Susan and Terry Jacks.  “Which Way You Going Billy” was their biggest American hit.  The couple divorced in 1973, the same year that Terry Jacks recorded the insipid, bubble gum death pop tune, “Seasons in the Sun.”

  1. Are You Ready—Pacific Gas and Light

Peaked at #14: 93rd biggest song of 1970

Los Angeles California based Pacific Gas and Light band is a “one hit wonder” with their song “Are You Ready.”  This was just one of many songs that became hits during 1970, which featured Christian based themes and painted a positive message to a troubled world.

  1. Hitchin’ a Ride—Vanity Fare

Peaked at #5:  14th biggest song of 1970

The English pop rock band Vanity Fare had their only two Top 40 hits chart during 1970: “Early in the Morning” and “Hitchin’ a Ride.”  The song featuring an electric guitar, two recorders and a base guitar, is light and breezy, a pleasant up-tempo tune. One of the catchiest records of 50 years ago.

  1. Teach Your Children—Crosby Stills Nash & Young

Peaked at #16.   1st of two CSN&Y songs on countdown

The supergroup Crosby Stills Nash & Young had two songs on the first AT40 countdown.  “Teach Your Children” was written by Graham Nash and featured Grateful Dead front man Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel guitar.  The summer of 1970 was good for CSN&Y.

Records “(They Long To Be) Close To You” from the Carpenters and “Ride Captain Ride” by Blues Image. I bought these singles during the summer of 1970 and still own them here in 2020.

  1. Get Ready—Rare Earth

Peaked at #4:  8th biggest song of 1970

Motown’s rock band Rare Earth covered the Temptations song “Get Ready” and the song quickly established this “blue eyed soul” group as a force within the music industry.  The hard driving, up tempo groove was the debut single for the Rare Earth record label.

  1. Go Back—Crabby Appleton

Peaked at #36.     A one hit wonder

Crabby Appleton were a rock band from Los Angeles, California, and was named after the cartoon character Tom Terrific.  “Go Back” is a true “one hit wonder” and I consider this song to be the most underrated tune in my AT40 countdown.

  1. Question—The Moody Blues

Peaked at #21    Song reached #2 in the United Kingdom

English band the Moody Blues scored their third top 40 hit in America with the song, “Question.”  This anti-war protest song seemed to resonate with listeners during the turbulent days of the Vietnam conflict and is still one of the most popular songs for the band 50 years later.

Records “Are You Ready” from Pacific Gas & Light” and “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain. I bought these singles during the summer of 1970 and still own them here in 2020.

  • Baker’s Dozen:  My top 13 selections. I consider these songs as being the “cream of the crop” and all fit into the following categories: I deem the Baker’s Dozen to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful, relevant and absolute all time favorite songs for me.
  1. (They Long To Be) Close to You—The Carpenters

Peaked at #1     2nd biggest song of 1970

Siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter had their first breakthrough hit with “(They Long To Be) Close to You.”  The Burt Bacharach and Hal David song spent 4 weeks at number 1 and won a Grammy Award in 1971.  The duos’ mega hit is a signature song by the Carpenters.

  1. Band of Gold—Freda Payne

Peaked at #3.     10th biggest song of 1970

With backing from the legendary Motown band, the Funk Brothers, Freda Payne hit pay dirt with her catchy, hooked-laden song, “Band of Gold.”  Payne’s smash record was popular on both Top 40 and Soul radio stations, and was the biggest hit during her career.

  1. O-o-h Child—The Five Stairsteps

Peaked at #8.    21st biggest song of 1970

A family group from Chicago, Illinois, the Five Stairsteps had their only Top 40 hit with “O-o-h Child.”  The lyrics are positive suggesting the “things are going to get easier” during times of trouble.  The smooth sound and the message of this “one hit wonder” is still relevant for us here in 2020.

  1. Lay Down (Candles In the Rain)—Melanie and the Edwin Hawkins Singers

Peaked at #6.    23rd biggest song of 1970

Having played at Woodstock during August 1969, Melanie Safka wrote the song, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” after performing at the “peace and love music festival” in New York state. Melanie is joined by the Edwin Hawkins Singers and their collaboration gives this song a wonderful, gospel type feeling.

  1. Make It With You—Bread

Peaked at #1.    13th biggest song of 1970

Lead singer David Gates of Bread wrote the song, “Make It With You” and the song was the first of many top 40 hits by the soft rock California band. The relaxing, smooth guitar and piano on this number 1 hit, paved the way for future bands to incorporate these sounds, into what is now known as “Yacht Rock.”

  1. Ohio—Crosby Stills Nash & Young

Peaked at #14.    2nd of two CSN&Y songs on the countdown

Just after Ohio National Guardsmen killed four Kent State University students on May 4th, 1970, Neil Young wrote the words to his legendary protest song.  The hard driving rock sounds of “Ohio” gave CSN&Y simultaneous hits on the very first AT40 show 50 years ago.

  1. Mississippi Queen—Mountain

Peaked at #21.  78th biggest song of 1970

During the summer of ‘69, the hard rock band Mountain played at Woodstock. The following year, the band released “Mississippi Queen” and the song became their only hit. The song opens up with signature cowbell percussion, a powerful guitar riff and strong vocals by Leslie West. The song remains a staple on classic rock radio stations here in the 21st Century.

  1. Tighter Tighter—Alive N Kickin’

Peaked at #7    47th biggest song of 1970

Another excellent “one hit wonder” during the summer of 1970 was “Tighter Tighter” by Alive N Kickin’.  One of the writers of the song was Tommy James and the leader of the Shondells actually produced the recording of the hit.  Perfect harmonies and awesome saxophone playing kept the song on the Billboard Hot 100 for 16 weeks.

  1. The Long and Winding Road—The Beatles

Peaked at #1.    41st biggest song of 1970

It has always been ironic to me that the last number 1 song for the Beatles was “The Long and Winding Road.”  After producer Phil Spector added orchestral and choral overdubs to this song, McCartney announced the official end of the Fab Four during April 1970.   It was sad to realize that “the Beatles’ long and winding road” ended with their last chart-topping song.

  1. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours—Stevie Wonder

Peaked at #3.   31st biggest song of 1970

Little Stevie Wonder had his first number 1 hit at age 13 in 1963. Seven years later, he was a co-writer, singer and producer for his own song, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.”  Wonder received a Grammy nomination for this Soul music smash and arguably is among the best singles ever recorded by the 1989 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee.

  1. Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)—The Temptations

Peaked at #3.   24th biggest song of 1970

Summer of 1970 was a troublesome time in America.  The Temptations socially conscious song “Ball of Confusion” accurately captured the pulse of turmoil that prevailed in our country.  The message was relevant 50 years ago. Unfortunately, the issues of this song still hold true:  50 years later. “Ball of confusion, that’s what the world is today.”  “And the band played on.”

  1. Ride Captain Ride—Blues Image

Peaked at #4.    32nd biggest song of 1970

Blues Image is my favorite “one hit wonder” with the AT40 songs on the countdown.  “Ride Captain Ride” has soaring guitar riffs, sharp piano playing and a smooth jazz sound.  With lyrics like, “73 men sailed up from the San Francisco Bay” and a catchy, up tempo groove, this tune is now considered Yacht Rock, a term that was not contemporaneously used during 1970.

  1. Mama Told Me (Not To Come)—Three Dog Night

Peaked at #1.   11th biggest song of 1970

Randy Newman wrote the lyrics to “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” in 1966 and Three Dog Night’s cover of this tune is my top selection on this countdown.  Ironically, it was also the number 1 song on the premiere AT40 broadcast, 50 years ago. Musically, the song features excellent instrumentation, vocal harmonies and distinct lead vocals by Cory Wells.  “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)” was the first number 1 song for Three Dog Night and is absolutely my favorite song from the first AT40 broadcast during the first weekend of July 1970.

Now that I have submitted my favorite song listing of the 40 songs Casey Kasey played on the first AT40 show, I am curious to find out your thoughts on the biggest hits in America from July 1970.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with the critique of my favorite songs from 50 years ago.  Your top songs maybe be completely different than my selections.  There are no right or wrong answers, just various opinions with the 40 biggest songs listed by Billboard and counted down by Kasem on the debut AT40 program.

I am asking for your opinion: What songs do you feel are the best, greatest or most significant of the 40 songs from the first AT40 broadcast. I await your replies.

My 45 rpm single of “Mama Told Ne (Not To Come)” that I bought in summer of 1970. I still own this record in June 2020.

I leave you with the words that Casey Kasem spoke at the close of every AT40 show:

“Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”

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Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

Essential Pop Rock Songs of the 70’s

 

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What is Power Pop Rock?

“Power pop is what we play – what the Small Faces used to play, and the kind of pop the Beach Boys played in the days of “Fun, Fun, Fun” which I preferred.”   Pete Townsend in an interview with British magazine NME, May 1967.

When British rock band the Who released their single “Pictures of Lily” during the spring of 1967, Pete Townsend used the term “Power Pop” to describe the song and the type of music that his band played. More than likely, Townsend had no idea that the “Power Pop” phrase he made to NME magazine in 1967 would become a sub genre of rock music during the 70’s.

What is Power Pop Rock?   Wikipedia gives their definition: “The genre typically incorporates melodic hooks, vocal harmonies, an energetic performance, and “happy” sounding music underpinned by a sense of yearning, longing, or despair.”

Online “AllMusic” website describes the style as “a cross between the crunching hard rock of the Who and the sweet melodicism of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, with the ringing guitars of the Byrds thrown in for good measure.”

I would describe “Power Pop” as prominent guitars, catchy melodies, excellent vocal harmonies and up-tempo beats, with a cross section of either happy or angst lyrics.

To truly understand how the “Power Pop” genre of music came into existence, we must go backwards to the early days of rock and roll music.

Foundation and influences of “Power Pop” sounds can be traced back to 50’s rock and roll artists like, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and the Everly Brothers. The next major influence of “Power Pop” came in the form of the British Invasion.

The Beatles brought a fresh new musical wave to America in 1964, when they introduced “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to audiences via the Ed Sullivan Show. Suddenly, teenagers and young adults were wrapped up with Beatlemania and the new sounds of soaring guitar pop music.

Many of the Beatles early songs contain the elements of what would later to be known as “Power Pop.” Fab Four songs like, “Please, Please Me” and “If I Needed Someone” are excellent examples along with “Day Tripper” and ‘Eight Days a Week.”

Soon after the Beatles success, there were dozens of other British bands recording hit songs with an up-tempo pop beat. The Hollies and the Kinks are two of the most prominent British bands that incorporated the light pop melodies during the musical “British Invasion” between 1964 and 1967.

American rock bands also got into the act of recording up-tempo pop records, the most notable groups being the Beach Boys and the Byrds. Pop rock songs were dominate on Top 40 radio during the mid to late 60’s.

Here are some of best examples of hit pop rock songs from the 60’s, way before “Power Pop” became a named genre of music:

  • Paperback Writer–The Beatles
  • Wouldn’t It be Nice—The Beach Boys
  • I Can See For Miles—The Who
  • Daydream Believer—The Monkees
  • My Back Pages—The Byrds

  • Look Through Any Window—The Hollies
  • Happy Together—The Turtles
  • Do It Again—The Beach Boys
  • You Really Got Me—The Kinks
  • Penny Lane—The Beatles

  • So You Want To Be a Rock and Roll Star—The Byrds
  • The Kids Are Alright—The Who
  • Hungry Paul Revere and the Raiders
  • Elenore—The Turtles
  • A Girl like You—The Young Rascals

When the Beatles officially broke up in 1970, many thought that the pop rock sounds that the Fab Four helped to make popular was finished as a relevant form of music.  However, there were two bands that helped carry on the Beatles musical legacy during the early 70’s:  Badfinger and Raspberries.

Badfinger started in the early 60’s with the name of the Iveys.  During the summer of 1968, they signed a contact with the Beatles owned, Apple Records company.  The Iveys first single was “Maybe Tomorrow” and the song’s success had mixed results. It was a hit in some European countries but was a failure in the United Kingdom and in America.

In 1969, Paul McCartney wrote a song call “Come and Get It” that he had planned to have the Beatles record for their Abbey Road album.  Obviously, the song didn’t make the Fab Four album and it was then offered to the Iveys. Just prior to “Come and Get It” being released, Apple Records and the band agreed to change their name to Badfinger.

With the new name, Badfinger assembled four huge hit records:

  • Come and Get It
  • No Matter What
  • Day After Day
  • Baby Blue

With soaring guitar riffs, excellent melodies and superb vocal harmonies, Badfinger is considered to be the most influential and pioneers of the “Power Pop” rock genre of music.

The second band to have the greatest impact on “Power Pop” music during the early 70’s, is a group simply known as Raspberries.  This Cleveland, Ohio based band was formed in the late 60’s and came together with the name Raspberries during 1971.

Eric Carmen was the front man for the band, being lead vocalist and playing rhythm guitar.  All of the Raspberries members wore tuxedos while playing on stage and emulated former British Invasion bands like the Beatles and the Who.

Raspberries had four top 40 hits between 1972 and 1974:

  • Go All the Way
  • I Want Be With You
  • Let’s Pretend
  • Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)

Just like their English counterpart band Badfinger, Eric Carmen’s group Raspberries  were also sonic pioneers with this new type of musical style.    Their influential playing style, flowing melodies and harmonies, placed the band as leaders in the development of the genre which came to be known later as “Power Pop.”

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After the demise of Badfinger and Raspberries bands, there still were a few other groups performing “Power Pop” music during the mid 70’s. Here are some examples of popular songs during this time period:

  • Magic—Pilot
  • Ballroom Blitz—Sweet
  • Abracadabra  (Have You Seen Her)—Blue Ash

  • September Gurls—Big Star
  • I’m On Fire—Dwight Twilly Band
  • Fox on the Run—Sweet

The “Power Pop” genre then saw a renewed resurgence during the late 70’s with the emergence of “Punk Rock” and “New Wave” bands.  Many of these new groups incorporated the sounds of pop/rock into their respective genres of music.

Naming of the “Power Pop” genre of music took root during 1978 when Bomp! magazine editor Greg Shaw started using the term “powerpop” in music reviews of punk and new wave bands.  In the article, Shaw defined and gave a history of “power pop” up to that point.

Many of the popular “new wave” bands of the late 70’s, moved away from traditional blues-based rock and roll, to assimilate more pop grooves with their music. Popular “new wave” bands such as the Police, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, Blondie and the Cars, all tended to mesh together a hybrid fusion of pop rock sounds.  Many of their songs easily fit into the “Power Pop” category.

When I was attending James Madison University from 1978 until 1980, I worked at Public Radio Station WMRA Harrisonburg, Virginia.  During the evening hours at the station, I would be a radio host for an album rock radio show.  I regularly played “Power Pop” album songs on my radio show broadcasting throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

Here are some of the most memorable “Power Pop” rock songs that I played on my WMRA “After Hours” radio show during this time period:

  • Starry Eyes—The Records
  • Girl Of My Dreams –Bram Tchaikovsky
  • One Way or Another—Blondie
  • My Sharona—The Knack
  • Let’s Go—The Cars
  • I Want You To Want Me—Cheap Trick

Below is one of my radio airchecks from WMRA Harrisonburg, Virginia, from April 1st, 1980, when I hosted the album rock program called After Hours.

Although “Power Pop” continued to flourish beyond 1979, my concentration for the rest of this article will be on the 70’s.  I have selected what I consider to be the essential top ten singles of the “Power Pop” genre of music during the 70’s decade.  These are my favorite songs in this category.

Before I share my listing, I must point out a couple of things:  First there are 10 different artists on my listing.  If I didn’t set that criteria, Badfinger and Raspberries would have dominated my selections with multiple songs.

The top ten songs that I have selected fit into the following categories: I deem the 10 songs to still be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant in the category of “Power Pop” rock.

 

  1. Pump It Up—Elvis Costello and the Attractions

From “This Year’s Model” album

Signature song by Elvis Costello from 1978 is a toe-tapping, up tempo, fast-paced adrenaline laced tune that was inspired by Bob Dylan’s, “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”  The combination interplay of excellent guitar and organ riffs, helps to solidify “Pump It Up” as “Power Pop” rock magic.

 

  1. What I Like About You—The Romantics

From the self-titled, “The Romantics” debut album

Initially released at the end of 1979, “What I Like About You” wasn’t a big top 40 hit. During late 1980, someone from Budweiser liked the memorable refrain, “Hey, uh-huh-huh” and the flowing guitar riffs on the song, and licensed it to be use in beer commercials.  The Romantics debut single has become one of the greatest rock anthems from the past 40 years.

 

  1. Surrender—Cheap Trick

From the “Heaven Tonight” album

During the late 70’s, Cheap Trick is considered one of the premier “Power Pop” rock band and I have selected their 1978 song, “Surrender” as their best in this category.   With dueling guitar playing and lyrics describing teenage angst, Rolling Stone magazine has proclaimed, “Surrender” as the “Ultimate 70’s teen anthem.”

 

  1. Cinnamon Girl—Neil Young and Crazy Horse

From the album “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”

Just a month before Neil Young wrote the iconic protest song “Ohio” about the May 1970 Kent State massacre, his record company released “Cinnamon Girl” as a single.  The tune features a prominent bass line, multiple guitars laying down accompanied rhythms and ends with a brilliant, “one note guitar solo.”   “Cinnamon Girl” remains one of Young’s most enduring songs.

 

  1. American Girl—Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers

From the self-titled debut “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers” album

It is quite ironic that Tom Petty recorded, “American Girl” on the Bicentennial of the United States, July 4th, 1976. The tune captures the fast, lively twin guitar riffs of Petty and his band member Mike Campbell, while following the urgent beats found on many “Power Pop” rock songs.  “American Girl” was the last song that Tom Petty played as an encore, during his last concert, just a week before he passed away in October 2017.

 

  1. Just What I Needed—The Cars

From the self-titled, “The Cars” debut album.

A combination of new wave, classic rock, synth pop, the Cars were mainstays with multiple power pop rock songs during the 70’s.  The ubiquitous “Just What I Needed” is a complete pop song.  Ringing guitars, catchy keyboard riffs and quirky lyrics brings this song to perfection.  This 1978 gem is ranked as one of the best recordings ever made by the Cars.

 

  1. Cruel To Be Kind—Nick Lowe

From the “Labour of Lust” album

Musically, “Cruel To Be Kind” was inspired by the Philadelphia soul sound of “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.  Lively and highly-spirited electric guitars combined with mockingly sarcastic lyrics, makes this Nick Lowe tune a crown jewel.  The official video for “Cruel To Be Kind” was actually filmed at Lowe’s 1979 wedding with his wife Carlene Carter and was his only Top 40 hit.

 

  1. Couldn’t I Just Tell You—Todd Rundgren

From the “Something/Anything?” album

Without a doubt, Todd Rundgren is the most influential solo performer on my Top 10 listing.  His ground breaking song “Couldn’t I Just Tell You”during 1972 paved the way for countless bands to emulate his creative guitar sounds.  Most music critics highly regard Rundgren as a pioneer and his song is considered a pure showpiece within the “Power Pop” genre of rock music.

 

  1. No Matter What—Badfinger

From the “No Dice” album

While I could have picked either “Day After Day” or “Baby Blue” at number two, I selected, “No Matter What” as the best Badfinger song in this category. This British band set the standard in 1970 and was the first to incorporate and develop all of the essential elements associated with this new genre of music.  “No Matter What” has excellent harmonies, melodies and superb instrumentation.  It remains Badfinger’s best and most powerful song in the “Power Pop” canon of music.

 

  1. Go All the Way—Raspberries

From the self-titled debut “Raspberries” album

My number one selection is “Power Pop” royalty. I consider, “Go All the Way” by the American rock band Raspberries as the perfect quintessential song in this category.  This tune starts off kicking:  Blazing guitars, infectious guitar riff and catchy hooks. Eric Carmen and his bandmates provide soaring harmonies, on this hot rocking, flame throwing masterpiece.  I place the 1972 Raspberries’ tune, “Go All the Way” as the essential “Power Pop” rock song of all time.

 

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Now that I have submitted my thoughts on the top 10 essential “Power Pop” rock songs, I am curious to find out your opinion on this genre of music from the 70’s.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique with the 1970’s decade and your favorite songs maybe be completely different than my selections.  There are no right or wrong answers, just various opinions on music known as “Power Pop” rock.

So I am asking for your opinion: What songs do you feel are the best, greatest, most significant and essential “Power Pop” rock songs of the 70’s decade?  I await your replies.  Rock on!

 

To subscribe to my blog via email, please click the “Follow” button in the menu above. I am looking forward reading your comments on my latest blog message.

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Music, Music Countdowns, Retro Rock

Quintessential Social Distancing Songs

Photo above by Amy Woodson

April 2020: With the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping across our world, normal everyday life activities have come to a screeching halt. Our existence has been temporarily transformed: From freely associating and interacting with other humans, including some family members, friends and acquaintances, to a new dynamic called social distancing.

How to deal with this new social distancing model has been a challenge for many of us. One of the ways that I have tried to maintain an ability to think and behave in a rational manner is through my Christian faith.

One other mechanism that I am using through these times of social distancing is music therapy. Utilizing music during this time has been powerful for me.

Stevie Wonder’s song “Sir Duke” summarizes accurately how music can bring unity in our world:

“Music is a world within itself

With a language we all understand

With an equal opportunity

For all to sing, dance and clap their hands

Music knows it is and always will

Be one of the things that life just won’t quit.”

Although I utilize music for my own therapeutic proposes, I am not advocating that there are individual songs or genres of music that are perfect for social distancing.

So what are the perfect social distancing songs for you? As Mama Cass Elliott sang on her, “Make Your Own Kind of Music” hit from 1969:

“You gotta make your own kind of music

Sing your own special song

Make your own kind of music

Even if nobody else sings along”

My advice to all reading this message: Choose songs and music that is right for you when engaging in music therapy for yourself. Any type of music or songs that you already love should be included during your musical sessions.

The genesis for this latest music blog came to me a couple of weeks ago when I was a substitute host for a weekly music show on social media. My friend David Hardie asked me to come up with 10 songs with a common theme for his “Friday Drive” show.

The theme I selected when hosting the “Friday Drive” was 10 perfect social distancing songs. The criteria of the songs that I picked: All of the tunes needed to have something that related to social distancing, somewhere in the title of the song.

Before I narrowed my listing to 10 songs, there were a few songs I had to eliminate.

  •  End of the world songs: I love R.E.M’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) and ‘End of the World” by Skeeter Davis. However, Coronavirus is not the end of the world. One day we will resume normal living options and I choose to be optimistic instead of pessimistic with our current situation.

  • Songs that lyrically fit but not favorites for me: “Alone Again Naturally” Gilbert O’Sullivan, “Isolation” John Lennon and “Behind the Mask” Michael Jackson.

  • Lyrics about social distancing but song title ambiguous: “Get Off of My Cloud” Rolling Stones, “My Life” Billy Joel and “I Am a Rock” Simon & Garfunkel.

  • Songs of Optimism: “I Will Survive” Gloria Gaynor and “Things Will Only Get Better” Howard Jones.

  • Songs just outside the top 10:   “Out of Touch” Hall & Oates, “Human Touch” Bruce Springsteen, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Stand Back” Stevie Nicks, “So Far Away” Carole King.

In order for a song to be in my top 10, I set up the following criteria:

  • The title of the song had to be lyrically related to our current social distancing protocol.
  • I actually had to love listening to the song myself. Thus, horrid, insipid songs like Donny Osmond’s “Go Away Little Girl” would never be used, even if the song title fits the category!

Now I submit to you, my top 10 playlist of quintessential social distancing songs:

  1. Get Back—The Beatles

This number 1 single from the Beatles spent 5 weeks at the top spot during May and June 1969. “Get Back” is my 4th favorite Fab Four song of all time.

  1. Keep Your Hands to Yourself—Georgia Satellites

Southern rock band Georgia Satellites reached number 2 with their novelty song “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” in February 1987. The band is considered a one hit wonder.

  1. Go Your Own Way—Fleetwood Mac

The first record from the legendary “Rumours” album, this Fleetwood Mac song peaked at number 10 in the winter of 1977. “Go Your Own Way” paved the way for 3 other top 10 singles in America that year.

  1. All By Myself—Eric Carmen

Former Raspberries lead singer Eric Carmen took the chorus from his band’s song, “Let’s Pretend” and mixed a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, to create a masterpiece. “All By Myself” hit number 1 with the Cash Box Top 100 chart in 1976.

  1. Alone—Heart

One of the best power ballads ever recorded by sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson. Heart’s song “Alone” vaulted to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and became the 2nd biggest record of 1987.

  1. I Think We’re Alone Now—Tommy James & the Shondells

After “Hanky Panky” topped the charts in 1966, Tommy James & the Shondells came back strong in 1967 with their up tempo smash, “I Think We’re Alone Now.” The song peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

  1. Dancing With Myself—Billy Idol

Interesting facts about “Dancing With Myself” and Billy Idol: As lead singer of the new wave band Gen X, his band had a United Kingdom hit with the song in 1980. After his band broke up, Idol recorded the song as a solo artist and it became a hit in America during 1981.

  1. Too Much Time on My Hands—Styx

Tommy Shaw both wrote and is the lead singer on “Too Much Time On My Hands” which came from the 1981 triple-platinum “Paradise Theatre” album. The song was a top ten hit on both AOR and Top 40 radio stations during the spring of 1981.

  1. One—Three Dog Night

Harry Nilsson wrote the lyrics for “One” and the song became the first top ten hit for Three Dog Night, reaching number 2 on the Cash Box Top 100 chart. The band then went on to chart 21 straight Top 40 hits from the summer of 1969 until 1975.

  1. Don’t Stand So Close to Me—The Police

Winning a Grammy Award for “Best Rock Performance” in 1981, the Police had an international smash with their song “Don’t Stand So Close To Me.” Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland put together a winning sound with Top 40 and rock radio listeners 39 years ago.

So there you go: The Police and their “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” is my number 1 quintessential social distancing song of all time.

The Police and their self titled compilation album which includes the song, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me.”

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on favorite quintessential social distancing songs, I am curious to find out your opinions on this topic.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of excellent social distancing tunes. Your top ten listing of songs maybe totally be different from my selections.

So I am asking for your thoughts: What do you consider to be the best social distancing songs? There are no right or wrong answers.

I am hoping this message will be an encouragement to you. The power of music can be used as a powerful tool to lift up our spirits during trying times.

As German Baroque classical music composer Johann Sebastian Bach stated during the 18th Century, “Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.”

Let music be therapeutic for your soul. Rock on!

To subscribe to my blog via email, please click the “Follow” button in the menu above. I am looking forward reading your comments on my latest blog message.

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Music, Music Countdowns, Retro Rock

The 007 Best James Bond Theme Songs

Photo above created by Amy Woodson.

The first three months of 2020 have been extremely good for 18-year-old American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish.

During the last Sunday in January, Eilish won four Grammy Awards, sweeping all four major categories presented by the Recording Academy:

* Best New Artist

* Song of the Year

* Record of the Year

* Best Pop Vocal Album

Then in February, Eilish became the youngest person to write and record a theme song for a James Bond movie.   The song “No Time To Die” was written by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, and is the official James Bond theme song for the latest 007 movie, “No Time To Die.”

The new James Bond movie theme song landed at the number 1 position on the United Kingdom’s Official Singles Chart the first week it was released. Eilish is now credited as the youngest artist and first female ever to have a James Bond theme song reach the apex of the Official Singles Chart.

Here in America, “No Time To Die” debuted at number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is currently number 12 on that chart. The James Bond film, “No Time To Die” had originally been set to be released next month but has been postposed to April 2nd, 2021 because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Since the Eilish release of “No Time To Die” last month, I have been thinking about the best James Bond movie theme songs of all time. With this in mind, I am going to share what I consider to be the greatest 007 James Bond songs ever made.

I have excluded ranking “No Time To Die” in my Top 007 greatest James Bond movie theme listing even though I feel it is a strong song. I am giving Eilish’s song a pass this time around on my music blog.

Here are my top 007 best James Bond theme song selections:

  • 007 song number seven: “James Bond Theme” John Berry Orchestra (From Dr. No 1962)

Signature song for the entire 25 James Bond movie series.   This instrumental was used in the very first 007 movie,“Dr. No” and has been used as a backdrop to the gun barrel sequence in almost every James Bond film. The music has also been used with the closing credits on nine 007 movies over the years.

  • 007 song number six: “Skyfall” Adele 2012

“Skyfall” is my only entry during the 21st Century and peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. Adele won a Grammy Award, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award all for her James Bond theme song.  Musically, the song has the feel of early 007 movie theme songs.

  • 007 song number five: “For Your Eyes Only” Sheena Easton 1981

This lush ballad was nominated for Best Original Song with the Academy Awards and became one of Sheena Easton’s biggest hits. “For Your Eyes Only” was a number 1 song around the world and peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

  • 007 song number four: “Diamonds Are Forever” Shirley Bassey 1971

Although it only peaked at number 57 on the Billboard Hot 100, Bassey’s song has become one of the most beloved of all 007 film songs of all time. Along with “Moonraker” from 1979 and “Goldfinger” from 1965, Bassey is the “Queen” of James Bond movie theme songs.

  • 007 song number three: “Nobody Does It Better” Carly Simon (From The Spy Who Loved Me) 1977

This power ballad composed by Marvin Hamlish and written by Carole Bayer Sager, is one of Carly Simon’s biggest hits. Peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, the song received both Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for best original song. Simon soars with her vocals throughout the song.

  • 007 song number two: “Goldfinger” Shirley Bassey 1964

I consider “Goldfinger” to be the quintessential James Bond movie theme song.   It was Shirley Bassey’s only top 40 hit in America, peaking at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was extremely hard for me to place “Goldfinger” as the second greatest 007 song of all time.

  • 007 song number one: “Live and Let Die” Paul McCartney & Wings 1973

My number 1 greatest James Bond movie theme song is “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings. The song reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became the first rock song to be a James Bond film song. McCartney still performs this song in concert, using pyrotechnics during instrumental breaks. Without a doubt, I consider “Live and Let Die” to be the best 007 film song of all time.

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on the best James Bond movie theme songs, I am curious to find out your opinion on this subject.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of the best 007 film songs of all time. Your top songs in this category may be completely different from my selections.

Album cover of Pure McCartney. This compilation LP contains the track, “Live and Let Die.”

So I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the Top 3 best James Bond movie theme songs ever made? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.

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Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1970: Greatest Year For One Hit Wonders?

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “The only constant in life is change.”  The concept of change accurately describes the musical landscape of Top 40 radio in 1970.

Since the beginning of the Top 40 radio format, there has always been change. As 1969 turned into 1970, many established artists started following new musical paths.

  • Diana Ross left the Supremes
  • The Beatles officially ended their band
  • Simon & Garfunkel split as a duo

Death ended the careers of two more artists: Both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died of drug overdoses, at age 27.

1970 also saw new artists emerge, starting a stream of multiple top 40 hits:

  • The Carpenters
  • Bread
  • The Jackson 5
  • James Taylor
  • Chicago

During the July 4th weekend of 1970, American Top 40 (AT40) debuted as the first nationally syndicated music count down program. Hosted by Los Angeles DJ Casey Kasem, AT40 played the Top 40 songs each week, from the Billboard Hot 100.

Casey Kasem Host of American Top 40

Here are the Top 10 songs that Kasem counted down on the first AT40 broadcast during the first weekend in July 1970:

  1. Mama Told Me (Not To Come)             Three Dog Night
  2. The Love You Save                               Jackson 5
  3. Ball of Confusion                                 The Temptations
  4. Ride Captain Ride                                 Blues Image
  5. Band of Gold                                        Freda Payne

  1. Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)       Melanie/Edwin Hawkins Singers
  2. (They Long to Be) Close To You      The Carpenters
  3. The Long and Winding Road           The Beatles
  4. The Wonder of You                         Elvis Presley
  5. Hitchin’ A Ride                                Vanity Fare

WLS Chicago Hit Parade Surveys 3/23/70 & 4/27/70. Courtesy of Pete Battistini: Author of AMERICAN TOP 40 WITH CASEY KASEM (THE 1970’S)

At the end of 1970, Billboard Magazine published the top hits of the year. All of the Top 10 songs for the entire year of 1970, were by artists who had more than one hit:

1          “Bridge Over Troubled Water”               Simon & Garfunkel

2          “(They Long to Be) Close to You”          The Carpenters

3          “American Woman”                              The Guess Who

4          “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”    B.J. Thomas

5          “War”                                                    Edwin Starr

6          “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”        Diana Ross

7          “I’ll Be There”                                      The Jackson 5

8          “Get Ready”                                         Rare Earth

9          “Let It Be”                                            The Beatles

10       “Band of Gold”                                      Freda Payne

Taking a deeper dive into the top 100 hits of fifty years ago, it reveals that 1970 was a great year for “one hit wonder” artists.

So what exactly is a “One Hit Wonder?” The basic definition is an artist has only one hit song during their career on the national Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. Obviously, there some other rules that should be included if an artist is to be included for consideration as a one hit wonder.

  • No other songs from an artist ever peaking at number 40 or higher on the Billboard National Pop Chart.
  • One hit wonders vary from country to country. An artist may have just one hit in America but have multiple hits in another country.
  • Regional hits are not taken into account: A second song must be a national hit and chart within the Billboard Top 40 pop survey.
  • Any song peaking outside of the Top 40, are always excluded for consideration.
  • Songs that peak from numbers 41 through 100 on the national Billboard Hot 100 pop chart are never considered as second hits.

The rule that a second song must be a Top 40 Billboard National pop chart hit was established in 1998, by music historian Wayne Jancik in his definitive work on the subject, “The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders.”

The subject of “one hit wonders” has always been interesting to me and researching the reasons why some artists have only one hit song. Way before the advent of the Internet, my go to reference for this subject has been “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” by Joel Whitburn. I consider Whitburn’s book to be the “bible” of Top 40 music reference and still proudly own a hard copy of this excellent book.

For the remainder of this message, I will be focusing on the musical year of 1970 and the numerous excellent one hit wonder songs during this golden year of Top 40 radio.

During my research of Joel Whitburn’s book and reviewing the Billboard Hot 100 songs of 1970 chart listing, I have come up with this conclusion: 1970 is the greatest year for excellent “one hit wonder” songs.

By my estimation, there are at least 25 “one hit wonder” songs, which I consider to range from fine to superb from 1970.   There are also 4 outlier songs that I want to document before proceeding with my comments on the twenty-five good to excellent “one hit wonders” from 1970.

  •  Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye—Steam:  Technically a 1969 hit but spilled over into 1970.  I consider this a transitional one hit wonder as it reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during mid December 1969 but still was in the Top 10 on the Billboard chart during the first two weeks of January 1970. A popular song that is still popular at sporting events here in 2020.

  •  Spill The Wine: Eric Burdon & War: Some on the Internet proclaim that “Spill the Wine” is a “one hit wonder” but the group War had 11 other Top 40 hits without Eric Burdon. In my mind, this song shouldn’t be considered in this category.
  •   Two Novelty One Hit Wonders Songs: “Rubber Duckie” by Ernie (Jim Henson) and “Gimme Dat Ding” from the Pipkins. I am not a fan of either of these tunes but they were Top 40 hits during 1970. I will humbly pass on affirming these two selections as being good.

Various “one hit wonder” records that I bought during 1970 and still own in 2020

Now it is on to my 25 “one hit wonders” from 1970 that I rank from good to excellent. First up are songs from 25 to 11: all are pleasing to my ears

Questionable lyric songs: Understood differently here in 2020

  • In the Summertime—Mungo Jerry
  • The Rapper—The Jaggerz

Songs with same lead singer: Tony Burrows

  • Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)—Edison Lighthouse
  • My Baby Loves Love—White Plains

Spiritual Songs: Christian themed messages

  • Are You Ready—Pacific Gas and Electric
  • God Love & Rock and Roll—Teegarden & Van Winkle

Canadian Artists: Only Hit in America

  • Indiana Wants Me—R Dean Taylor
  • As Years Go By—Maskmakhan

Various Topical Songs: A potpourri of subject matters

  • Hey There Lonely Girl—Eddie Holman
  • Montego Bay—Bobby Bloom
  • Neanderthal Man—Hotlegs

  • Evil Woman Don’t Play Your Games With Me—Crow
  • Lay a Little Lovin’ On Me—Robin McNamara
  • Go Back—Crabby Appleton
  • Ma Belle Amie—The Tee Set

Various “one hit wonder” records that I bought during 1970 and still own in 2020

Now I submit to you, my top 10 listing of “one hit wonder” songs from 1970.

I am not declaring these songs are the “best or greatest” in this category. These selections happen to be my Top 10 personal favorite “one hit wonders” from 1970: Songs which I deem to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.

  1. Venus—Shocking Blue

Peaked at #1 in February: 33rd biggest record of 1970

Shocking Blue was the first rock band from the Netherlands to have a hit in America.

Before Dutch bands Golden Earring and Focus had hits in the United States, “Venus” was a number 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100. The song has a memorable opening guitar riff, a catchy melodic tune and superb vocals by lead singer Mariska Veres. “Venus” was a worldwide hit, reaching number one in nine countries.

  1. All Right Now—Free

Peaked at #4 in October: 27th biggest song of 1970

English blues-hard rock band Free broke through in America during the fall of 1970 with “All Right Now.”   With Paul Rodgers on lead vocals, the song has a driving beat and is considered a quintessential classic rock tune. “All Right Now” was a hit all over, Europe, Canada and in Australia. After Free broke up, Rodgers became a premier rock vocalist with Bad Company.

  1. House of the Rising Sun—Frijid Pink

Peaked at #7 in April: 60th biggest song of 1970

A Detroit, Michigan hard rock band Frijid Pink, made a psychedelic cover of the Animals 1964 hit, “House of the Rising Sun” 50 years ago.   The song features distorted fuzz and wah-wah guitar playing, with hard driving drumming. I have fond memories winning a copy of this record from Top 40 WROV Roanoke, Virginia. It was absolutely thrilling for me to be able to speak on the air with legendary WROV DJ Bart Prater, when I won this Frijid Pink record during the spring of 1970.

  1. O-o-h Child—Five Stairsteps

Peaked at #8 in July: 21st biggest song of 1970

A family group from Chicago, Illinois, the Five Stairsteps reached the top 10 during on the Billboard Hot 100 with “O-o-h Child.” The lyrics are positive suggesting the “things are going to get easier” during times of trouble.  The smooth sound of the Five Stairsteps resonated with folks all across America. The first time I heard this song was on Top 40 WABC New York, with hall of fame DJ Cousin Brucie on the air.

  1. Mississippi Queen—Mountain

Peaked at #21 in July: 78th biggest song of 1970

During the summer of ‘69, the hard rock band Mountain played at Woodstock. The following year, the band released “Mississippi Queen” and the song became their only hit. Mountain’s summer of 1970 hit opens up with signature cowbell percussion, a powerful guitar riff and strong vocals by Leslie West. The song remains a staple on classic rock radio stations here in 2020.

  1. Vehicle—The Ides of March

Peaked at #2 in May: 85th biggest song of 1970

Often mistaken for another “Horn” band Blood Sweat & Tears, a Chicago, Illinois based band, the Ides of March, flew up the charts with their tune “Vehicle.” The song features a catchy guitar riff and has a matching magical percussion horn section. The Ides of March were led by Jim Pererik, who in the 80’s founded the rock band Survivor. I distinctly remember hearing “Vehicle” being played by Top 40 WLS Chicago DJ’s Chuck Buell and Kris Erik Stevens, prior to the song becoming a national hit.

  1. Yellow River—Christie

Peaked at #23 in December: 83rd biggest song of 1970

During the early part of 1970, British songwriter Jeff Christie formed the band called Christie and they recorded his song “Yellow River” as their first single. Jeff Christie says the lyrics of his song was inspired by a soldier going home at the end of the American Civil War. However, most listeners in America thought this power pop song was referring to the Vietnam Conflict. I remember hearing “Yellow River” for the first time on Top 40 WEBC Duluth, Minnesota, while I was visiting the land of 10,000 lakes on vacation during August 1970.

  1. Tighter, Tighter—Alive N Kickin’

Peaked at #7 in August: 47th biggest song of 1970

Tommy James and Bob King were both songwriters and producers for the song “Tighter, Tighter” by Alive N Kickin’. The band was from Brooklyn, New York and featured singers Pepe Cardona and Sandy Toder. Also in the group was Bruce Sudano, who later married disco singer Donna Summer. The song has excellent harmonies and has a Tommy James and the Shondells power pop groove. My first time hearing “Tighter, Tighter” was when I was traveling through Illinois and listening to DJ Larry Lujack on WLS Chicago.

  1. Ride Captain Ride—Blues Image

Peaked at #4 in July: 32nd biggest song on 1970

Blues Image formed in Tampa, Florida in 1967 and moved to Los Angeles, California during 1969. Musically, “Ride Captain Ride” has soaring guitar riffs, sharp piano playing and a smooth jazz sound. Prominent Blues Image member Denny Correll went on to play in the “Jesus Music” rock band Love Song after leaving the group. “Ride Captain Ride” is considered part of the “Yacht Rock” genre. It is my second favorite “one hit wonder” from 1970.

  1. Spirit in the Sky—Norman Greenbaum

Peaked at #3 in April: 22nd biggest song of 1970

My favorite “one hit wonder” from 1970 is “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum. The music on the song is excellent: Driving drums, tambourines and distorted electric guitars, brought together a hard rock sound with a spiritual lyrical message. I also consider “Spirit in the Sky” to be in the Top 10 best memorable rock guitar riffs of all time. Greenbaum’s song is still regularly played on classic rock radio stations and is considered one of the greatest “one hit wonders” of the 1970’s.

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on “one hit wonders” of 1970, I am curious to find out your opinion on the music of that year.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of the “one hit wonder” songs from 1970. The songs that you might feel are the best, maybe be completely different from my selections.

So I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the best “one hit wonders” of 50 years ago? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.

Listening to music from the golden age of Top 40 radio will always have a special place in my heart. In my humble opinion, 1970 was the greatest year ever for “one hit wonders.” Rock on!

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Music, Music Countdowns, Radio

What is the Greatest Christmas Song of All Time?

Oh, all the lights are shining so brightly everywhere

And the sound of children’s laughter fills the air

 

And everyone is singing

I hear those sleigh bells ringing

Santa, won’t you bring me the one I really need?

Won’t you please bring my baby to me?

 

Oh, I don’t want a lot for Christmas

This is all I’m asking for

I just wanna see my baby

Standing right outside my door

 

Oh, I just want you for my own

More than you could ever know

Make my wish come true

Baby, all I want for Christmas is you

 

 

What is the greatest Christmas song of all time? Over the past 25 years, “All I Want For Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey has become one of the most popular Christmas songs ever recorded.

Just how popular is Carey’s song?   “All I Want For Christmas is You” has been recognized for setting 3 Guinness World Records and her accomplishments will be published in the 2020 edition of the Guinness book. Here are the 3 records that Carey has broken:

 

  • The highest charting Christmas song on the Billboard Hot 100 by a solo artist
  • The most streamed track on Spotify in a 24 hour period
  • The most weeks in the United Kingdom singles Top 10 chart for a Christmas song

 

“All I Want For Christmas is You” is also riding high with popularity here in 2019 as the song just reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, for the week ending December 21st.   Carey’s song is just the 2nd Christmas song ever to reach the top spot on the Billboard chart (The first song to do so was “The Chipmunk Song” by the Chipmunks in 1958-59).

Since Carey’s Christmas song was first released in 1994, it has sold over 16 million units. Every Christmas season for the past 25 years, I have regularly heard Carey’s song played on Roanoke, Virginia radio stations, Top 40 K92 and Adult Contemporary Q99. Those stations are still playing “All I Want For Christmas is You” again this holiday season.

Arguably, Carey’s song is the biggest Christmas hit during the past quarter century. However, I go back to my original question at the start of this message: Is “All I Want For Christmas is You” the greatest Christmas song of all time?

I personally maintain that proclamations concerning “the best or greatest” Christmas song ever made, are rather pompous and are an exercise in futility.

Rather than ranking Christmas songs as the “best or greatest” of all time, I prefer to give acclaim to individual songs about Christmas, which are still meaningful and have lasted through the test of time.

My hypothesis on music and song likability: Generally, the songs that a person listened to as a teen or as a young adult, tend to be the songs that are fondly remembered and considered to be their favorite music selections of all time.

The most memorable and favorite songs for older adults tend to be the songs they loved during middle school, high school and college days.

While baby boomers might think Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby have the best Christmas songs, those growing up in the 2010 decade may consider Lauren Daigle or Kacey Musgraves to have the greatest Christmas songs ever made.

For the remainder of this article, I will be highlighting Christmas songs that were first written prior to 1994. My ranking of songs will not be based on greatness or popularity. My criteria will focus on songs and artists, whom I feel are still relevant and have withstood the test of time.

When I attended the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra “Holiday Pops” Christmas concert with my wife Priscilla a couple weeks ago, I began to realize how many wonderful Christmas songs there are in western civilization.

Roanoke Symphony Orchestra “Holiday Pops” concert at Salem Civic Center. December 6th, 2019

The Christmas songs that I like the most, all seem to be tunes older than 25 years old.   The Hallmark Christmas music channel on SiriusXM radio has became a favorite for me this holiday season. This station plays everything from the sounds of Nat King Cole to the modern tunes of Jen Lilley.

I do have a wide range of artists that I listen to on a regular basis for Christmas music. I can go from tuning in standard Christmas classics from Gene Autry, Andy Williams and Perry Como, to enjoying contemporary artists like Pentatonix, Mannheim Steamroller and Sara Niemietz.

Before revealing my top selections of Christmas songs, I want to document some music that I fondly remember during my childhood and are still favorites to me.

My first memories of Christmas music happened around age 10 during my childhood. Both of my parents each had one favorite Christmas album and those records were regularly played on the Woodson family RCA stereo system.

“The Andy Williams Christmas Album” was Shirley Woodson’s absolute favorite Christmas record. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was my mom’s most treasured song on the album. She also loved Williams’ covers of “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night.”

For my dad Andy Woodson, “The Twelve Songs of Christmas” by Jim Reeves was his favorite Christmas album. “Mary’s Boy Child” was his most loved song on the album. He also cherished “An Old Christmas Card” and “The Merry Christmas Polka.”

Around the age of 13, I began listening to Top 40 radio and I started forming my own favorite list of Christmas songs. Here are some of songs I loved during my teen years:

 

Novelty Songs

  • Snoopy’s Christmas—The Royal Guardsmen
  • Little Saint Nick—The Beach Boys
  • The Chipmunk Song—The Chipmunks (David Seville)
  • Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer—Gene Autry

Top 40 Rock Songs

 

  • Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree—Brenda Lee
  • Jingle Bell Rock—Bobby Helms
  • Sleigh Ride—The Ronettes

 

Middle of the Road Songs

 

  • (There’s No Place Like) Home For the Holiday—Perry Como
  • A Holly Jolly Christmas—Burl Ives
  • Pretty Paper—Roy Orbison

Holiday Songs

 

  • This Christmas—Donnie Hathaway
  • It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way—Jim Croce
  • Aspenglow—John Denver

As an adult, I expanded my musical horizons and added a couple songs from the Contemporary Christian genre to my favorite playlist.

 

Star Song (There Is Born a Child)—Sheila Walsh

 

 

Come On Ring Those Bells—Evie

 

 

I now humbly submit to you, my top Christmas song listing of all time. I am not declaring they are the “best or greatest” holiday songs ever made. These selections are my favorite Christmas songs that I deem to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.

 

  1. Do You Hear What I Hear—Whitney Houston

 

Obviously hundreds of artists have covered “Do You Hear What I Hear” over the years, so it is hard to choose just one version. I have selected Whitney Houston’s performance of the song that was written in 1962.

 

  1. Silent Night—The Temptations

 

Written in Salzburg, Austria during 1818, “Silent Night” is one of the most widely acclaimed Christmas carols of all time. Hundreds of artists have recorded the song and I enjoy listening to the Temptations Motown version best of all.

 

 

  1. Mary Did You Know—Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd

 

Mark Lowry wrote “Mary Did You Know” in 1984 and Michael English was the first to record the tune. Mother Mary and her possible understanding with the virgin conception of Jesus, totally makes this an intriguing lyrical song. I prefer the Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd version of this tune.

 

  1. That’s What Christmas Means To me—Stevie Wonder

 

Stevie Wonder released a Christmas album in 1967 called “Someday at Christmas” and his song “That’s What Christmas Means To Me” is the crown jewel on this recording. Wonder’s top-tapping tune continues to be a winner in my book.

 

  1. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)—Darlene Love

 

The most underrated of my top 10 selections is “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love. Utilizing Phil Spector’s, “Wall of Sound” production, Love’s emotion and excellent vocals are powerful and still sound fresh to me.

  1. O Holy Night—Martina McBride

 

One of the best known Christmas carols of all time is “O Holy Night” which was written in France during 1847.   Many have recorded the song but my favorite rendition is by Martina McBride. The country music singer provides outstanding vocals with her recording on the song.

 

 

  1. Merry Christmas Darling—The Carpenters

 

Originally released in 1970, “Merry Christmas Darling” was a perennial Christmastime hit on Top 40 radio during the 70’s decade for the Carpenters. Karen Carpenter’s vocals are superb: Haunting, longing and inviting. She had one of the purest voices in pop music when this song was recorded.

 

  1. The Christmas Song—Nat King Cole

 

Known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” by many folks, “The Christmas Song” was written in 1945 by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé.   My favorite version of the song is by Nat King Cole and his rendition was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1974.

  1. Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)—Amy Grant

 

One of the most melodic Christmas tunes of the past 30 years is the song Amy Grant wrote with Chris Eaton, “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song). The lyrics are written from Mary’s perspective of the nativity story with Jesus’ birth. Grant’s tender vocals are exceptional on this modern day Christmas classic song.  My second favorite Christmas song of all time.

 

 

  1. White Christmas—Bing Crosby

 

Irving Berlin wrote the lyrics to “White Christmas” in 1942 and Bing Crosby’s version is my number one all time favorite Christmas song. The song has sold over 50 million units worldwide and is the biggest selling single ever recorded.   “White Christmas” is ranked number 2 on NPR’s “Songs of the Century” listing and is in the Library of Congress, National Recording Registry.   Without a doubt, “White Christmas” is the most beloved holiday song ever made.

Now that you have viewed my selections of what I consider to be the top Christmas songs ever made, I want to pose the question again: Is Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You” the greatest Christmas song of all time?

My answer is no. Although I do not want to disrespect those who place Mariah Carey’s song as the greatest Christmas song of all time, I respectfully submit that “All I Want For Christmas is You” is a wonderful holiday tune but hasn’t yet weathered the test of time.

“All I Want For Christmas” has achieved great accolades over the past 25 years since Carey’s song was released and most likely will be highly rated during upcoming Christmas seasons during the 2020 decade. However, comparing the current number 1 song in America with Christmas songs like Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is completely unfair to Mariah Carey.

Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” was recorded in 1942 and has sold over 50 million units worldwide. For the past 78 years, “White Christmas” has been the most beloved Christmas song around the world and without a doubt, is the greatest Christmas song of all time.

Those are my thoughts on Christmas songs. Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of Christmas music. Your top selections of Christmas songs could be totally different than my picks. There are no right or wrong answers on this topic.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

 

I close with the lyrics to the greatest Christmas song ever made:

 

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the treetops glisten

And children listen

To hear sleigh bells in the snow

 

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

With every Christmas card I write

May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white

 

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the treetops glisten

And children listen

To hear sleigh bells in the snow

 

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

With every Christmas card I write

May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white

 

 

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