Graphic above by Julianne Woodson
What are the best songs played on Top 40 radio during the 70s that were not released as singles by record companies?
Obviously, there are no definitive answers to my question. If I asked the above inquiry to 100 folks, I would surely receive one hundred different responses.
With this latest music blog message, I will be revealing my top selections based on these factors: Growing up in Roanoke, Virginia, listening to WROV 1240 AM and then being employed by the legendary top 40 station, starting in 1974.
My regular radio listening started in the spring of 1967 after my parents gave me a transistor radio. I quickly discovered WROV and was hooked on their Top 40 format.
Then in the summer of 1967, I commandeered a desk-top tube radio from our kitchen and permanently kept this device in my bedroom. On most nights that summer, I would tune in 50,000-watt, clear channel AM radio stations, such as WLS 890 Chicago and WABC 770 New York.
When I started listening to the radio 55 years ago, I quickly realized that Top 40 stations aired only songs that were released as 45-rpm singles by record companies. The biggest album from the 1967 “summer of love” was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles. Since Capitol Records didn’t release any singles on the Fab Four album, there were no songs from the LP regularly played on Top 40 outlets.
It wasn’t until late 1968/early 1969, that I noticed Top 40 radio playing album tracks. The Beatles “White Album” came out during November 1968 but Capitol Records did not release any singles from the LP in America. However, many top 40 formatted stations played select cuts from the self-titled Beatles album.
On WROV Roanoke, they played three tracks from the Beatles “White Album.” First, the station aired “Back in the U.S.S.R” and then followed up with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Rocky Raccoon.”
Above is an audio clip when I was a guest DJ for a My Fab Four segment on SiriusXM’s the Beatles Channel. Featured on this audio clip: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” & “Back in the USSR” from the “White Album.” Two of my four favorite Beatles songs of all-time.
Forward to the 70s. Most Top 40 stations were still on the AM band at the beginning of the decade. The emergence of FM radio in the late 60s and early 70s created challenges for existing AM radio stations.
Since music sounded 100% better on FM, ratings for AM Top 40 stations starting declining. To compensate for the competitive disadvantage AM Top 40 radio had against new FM signals, many long-standing AM outlets decided to tweak their traditional playlists.
Most Top 40 AM stations in the early 70s started playing the longer album version of songs rather than the shorter edited 45-rpm single record. Many of these AM outlets also embraced the playing of “non-single” album tracks on their hot rotation playlists.
Sometimes an AM Top 40 station playing an album track would result in a record company releasing a song as a 45-rpm single. This happened during my first job in radio at WROV in 1974.
During early September 1974, WROV music director Chuck Holloway started playing the song “Black Water”, which was a track from the Doobie Brothers “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits” album. After just a few spins on Holloway’s nighttime DJ air-shift, “Black Water” became an immediate hit in Roanoke.
Soon after, Phil Beckman at WQRK Norfolk and Buzz Bennett with KDWB Minneapolis added “Black Water” to their playlists. Finally, Warner Bros Records released the song as a single and the Doobie Brothers achieved their first number 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 during March 1975. WROV received a gold record for being the first radio station to play and break “Black Water” as a hit song in America.
For the remainder of this message, I will be counting down what I consider to be the ten best classic Top 40 hits of the 70s. These were songs that received heavy airplay on WROV 1240 AM Roanoke, played as an album track and not released by a record company as a 45 RPM single.
My countdown of songs in this category is based solely on my experience of living in Roanoke, Virginia and listening to Top 40 WROV. The ten selections below are from my point of reference and are not meant to be a definitive listing of top album tracks aired on Top 40 radio in America during the 70s.
Before starting the countdown, here are some clarification points on non-single album tracks played on Top 40 radio:
- Information on album tracks not released as 45 RPM singles pertains only to the United States.
- Time frame for non-single songs is up to 24 months after an album was initially released.
- Since only singles were eligible to appear on Billboard Hot 100, album tracks didn’t qualify to chart in the 70s.
- Some songs that were originally album tracks only may have subsequently been released as a single, years or even decades after the first release of a song.
- Later versions of singles could be in a variety of formats: 45 RPM, 12 Inch disc, Cassette, CD or Digital Download.
- With the 2001 advent of iTunes, all songs on countdown can now be purchased as a digital single: via multiple Internet platforms.
While the album tracks from the countdown are associated with airplay on WROV, all of the selections are still well-known songs in the 21st Century. Most can be heard daily on various radio outlets: classic rock, classic hits, oldies and multiple SiriusXM channels in 2022.
A song just outside of my top 10 countdown is an album track that WROV played during 1976: “Turn the Page” from the Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band LP, “Live Bullet.” Two singles were released from the album: “Nutbush City Limits” and a medley of “Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser”
WROV’s Music Director and DJ Bill Jordan provides information below on why he decided adding “Turn the Page” to his station’s playlist in 1976: “I was music director during a pretty interesting time at WROV. We had morphed into sort of a Top 40/Album Oriented format, and readily played album cuts that “fit” the sound we wanted.”
Jordan continues, “A friend switched me on to Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” from his “Live Bullet” album. We started playing it in very light rotation and it quickly exploded. Record stores couldn’t keep the album in stock.
In fact, “Turn the Page” became so popular that Capitol Records considered delaying the release of the “Night Moves” album. In 1977, Seger performed at the Salem Civic Center in his last show as an opening act for Black Sabbath.
“Turn The Page” brought the house down. Great times!”
It is now time for the countdown. The top ten radio hits of the 70s not released as 45 RPM singles:
10. Southern Man—Neil Young
From the “After the Gold Rush” album: Released September 19, 1970
WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Terry Young 1973
Singles released from album: “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “When You Dance, I Can Really Love.”
“Southern Man” is found on two albums: Neil Young’s 1970, “After the Gold Rush” LP and a live version on a live 1971 Crosby Stills Nash & Young album, “4 Way Street.” WROV DJ Terry “Motormouth” Young played this track on his 7 to midnight shift during the winter and spring of 1973. The fast-talking DJ went on bigger radio stations like WLEE Richmond and WCAU Philadelphia. Terry Young was also on SiriusXM’s 60s on 6 channel during the first part of this century.
9. Isn’t She Lovely—Stevie Wonder
From the “Songs in the Keys of Life” album: Released September 28, 1976
WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Rob O’Brady 1977
Singles released from album: “I Wish”, “Sir Duke”, “Another Star” and “As.”
When Stevie Wonder’s album “Songs in the Key of Life” came out, many consumers wanted Tamla Records to release “Isn’t She Lovely” as a single. Wonder didn’t want his over six-minute song to be edited and refused to have his song cut up into a shorter 45-RPM record. Many Top 40 stations played the song anyway, including WROV. Rob O’Brady would often play Wonder’s album track on his morning drive show and announce that it was dedicated to his loyal listeners, fondly known as “O’Brady’s Ladies.”
8. Let It Flow—Eric Clapton
From the “461 Ocean Boulevard” album: Released July 1974
WROV DJs I Associate with Song: Chuck Holloway, Bart Prater & Rob O’Brady 1974
Singles released from album: “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Willie and the Hand Jive.”
While most Top 40 stations added “Willie and the Hand Jive” to their playlists after Eric Clapton hit number 1 with “I Shot the Sheriff”, WROV went in another direction. Music director Chuck Holloway added the album track “Let it Grow” to its hot rotation and aired in all day-parts. Clapton plays a dobro on this track and Yvonne Elliman provides backup vocals on this melodic tune.
7. South City Midnight Lady—The Doobie Brothers
From “The Captain and Me” album: Released March 2, 1973
WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Bart Prater & Larry Bly 1973
Singles released from album: “Long Train Running” and “China Grove.”
“South City Midnight Lady” is quite different from most Doobie Brothers songs. The tune features a pedal steel guitar, strings and synthesizer. I distinctly remember WROV’s morning DJ Larry Bly playing the song regularly in the fall of 1973. However, I mostly associate this Doobie Brothers song with afternoon announcer Bart Prater. “South City Midnight Lady” was Prater’s favorite song that he played on WROV. The legendary Roanoke DJ played it regularly on the station between 1973 and 1981, before leaving to work at crosstown K92 FM.
6. The Chain—Fleetwood Mac
From the “Rumours” album: Released February 4, 1977
WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Rob O’Brady 1977
Singles released from album: “Go Your Own Way”, “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun.”
Fleetwood Mac (FM) was hot on Top 40 radio in 1977 with four-top 10 singles. Fans wanted more songs to be played from the “Rumours” album and WROV obliged by adding a fifth song from the LP. “The Chain” is the only FM song from the album with writing credits from all five members (Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood. The band also regularly opens their concert tours by playing “The Chain.”
5. Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding—Elton John
From the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album: Released October 5, 1973
WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Chuck Holloway 1974
Singles released from album: “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Bennie and the Jets.”
“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” was too long for a single release, but we played it at WROV in 1974 when I first started working for the station. Coming in at over 11-minutes long, this rock song was aired only after 7 pm and then up to 5 am the next morning. Chuck Holloway played it at least once every evening on his air shift. This medley of two songs from the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album, is a renowned musical masterpiece by the Bernie Taupin/Elton John duo.
4. I Heard It Through the Grapevine—Creedence Clearwater Revival
From the “Cosmo’s Factory” album: Released July 8, 1970
WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Bill Thomas 1970
Singles released from album: “Travelin’ Band/Who’ll Stop the Rain”, “Up Around the Bend/Run Through the Jungle” and “Lookin’ Out My Backdoor/Long as I Can See the Light.”
Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) had 3-double sided top 5 hit singles from their “Cosmos Factory” album. In the fall of 1970, many Top 40 stations played CCR’s 11-minute cover version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” At WROV, the CCR album track only aired during night time air shifts. 7 to midnight DJ Bill Thomas played the album track on Roanoke’s top 40 outlet.
In 1972, CCR broke up and John Fogerty had a nasty falling out with his record company. Fantasy Records released an edited 3:53 version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” as a single. It peaked at number 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973. Obviously, this version cuts out most of the outstanding instrumental ending with the Motown cover tune.
3. Maybe I’m Amazed—Paul McCartney
From self-titled “McCartney” album: Released April 17, 1970
WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Jack Fisher 1970
Apple Records was in a quandary in April 1970: Paul McCartney officially confirmed that the Beatles had broken up, and the last Fab Four album, “Let it Be” was set to be released in May, along with the Beatles single, “The Long and Winding Road.”
On top of all that activity, a self-titled “McCartney” debut solo album, came out just a week after the news that the Beatles were history. It was then decided by Apple Records that no singles would be released from Sir Paul’s LP. That didn’t stop WROV from adding the album track “Maybe I’m Amazed” to its playlist. It was a midday favorite of legendary DJ Jack Fisher.
Forward to December 1976: an album by Paul McCartney & Wings was released called “Wings Over America.” This live LP featured a cover of “Maybe I’m Amazed” and it became the lead single from the album. This new rendition peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the spring of 1977.
2. Baba O’Riley—The Who
From the “Who’s Next” album: Released August 14, 1971
WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Dan Alexander 1971
Singles released from album: “Won’t Get fooled Again” and Behind Blue Eyes.”
The opening track from the 1971 “Who’s Next” album is “Baba O’Riley.” The song most music critics consider as the best ever recorded by the Who was not released as a 45-RPM single 51 years ago.
According to Wikipedia: “Baba O’Riley” appears in Time magazine’s “All-Time 100 Songs” list, Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”
My fond memory of hearing this album track played on WROV: DJ Dan Alexander created comedy bits on his AM drive show, under the fictional character name of Marvin Meriweather. One morning just after Alexander started playing “Baba O’Riley”, Marvin shouts out the chorus refrain: “It’s only TEENAGE WASTELAND, they’re all WASTED.” It was truly a LOL moment for me.
- Stairway to Heaven—Led Zeppelin
From the “Lead Zeppelin IV” album: Released November 8, 1971
WROV DJs I Associated with Song: Terry Young and Shane Randall 1973
Singles released from album: “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll.”
My number 1 selection on the countdown is “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, which is the signature song by the English band. WROV’s Terry Young played the song every night in 1973, when he was employed by the station.
Composed by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, “Stairway to Heaven” is considered by many as the best rock song of all-time. This Led Zeppelin tune was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, voted as the third “Greatest Rock Song” by VH1, ranked #31 on the Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” listing and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003.
Led Zeppelin didn’t release many singles during their career and their greatest song was only available as an album track during the 70s decade. Without a doubt, “Stairway to Heaven” is the number 1 song played on WROV/Top 40 radio in the 70s and not released as a 45 RPM single.
Now that I have submitted my top ten 70s album tracks that weren’t released as singles, I am curious to find out your opinions of this topic. What are your favorite songs on my countdown?
If you were living in the 70s and listened to Top 40 radio were any of the tunes listed above played on your home town station? Or maybe a Top 40 outlet in your community played different album tracks than the songs that I documented in this article?
Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts and comments below on what you consider to be the best album tracks that never were released as a 45 RPM record during the 70s. I look forward reading your responses. Rock on!
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