Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1969: Best One Hit Wonders

Photo Above by Julianne Woodson

It appears that folks can’t get enough of the topic “one hit wonders.”

The published music blog that I wrote on “1970: Greatest Year for One Hit Wonders” is my most viewed message of all time.  Following in those footsteps, is the recent success of the “1971: Superb One Hit Wonders” message that is soaring in popularity.

Now I am going for the troika:  1969 one hit wonders.

From my music collection of 45 rpm singles: “Good Old Rock ‘N Roll” by Cat Mother & the All Night News Boys and “You, I” by the Rugbys.

With this edition of my musical musings, I am concentrating on the best “one hit wonders” of 1969.  I will be counting down the top songs in this category from 52 years ago.

I have fond memories listening to Top 40 radio during 1969. I turned 14 that year living in Roanoke, Virginia. During daytime hours, I was a regular listener to a couple of local AM radio stations:  WROV and WBLU.

Legendary Top 40 WROV 1240 AM was the top-rated radio station in Roanoke. The DJs that I remember from the station during 1969 include Jack Fisher, Fred Frelantz, Bart Prater and John Cigna.

WROV Roanoke Super Summer Survey 8/24/69. Courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

WBLU 1480 AM Salem was the other Top 40 outlet in the Roanoke radio market.  WBLU DJ’s 52 years ago were Chris Shannon, Les Turpin and Bill Cassidy, while Dave Moran was the general manager of the station.

At sundown, WROV reduced their power and WBLU signed off the air, so I tuned in radio stations located hundreds of miles away from my Virginia home. Since radio waves changed on a nightly basis, I would listen to a variety of 50,000-watt, clear channel AM stations on any given night.

The two main stations that I listened to during the nighttime were WLS 890 AM Chicago and WABC 770 AM New York. On the Big 89 WLS, Larry Lujack, Chuck Buell and Kris Erik Stevens were my favorite DJs. When listening to WABC, Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow) are the two radio DJ voices that I remember.

WLS Chicago Hit Parade Surveys 7/14/69 (“In the Year 2525” is #1) & 12/1/69 (“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye is #1).  Courtesy of Pete Battistini: Author of AMERICAN TOP 40 WITH CASEY KASEM (THE 1970’S).

On nights that WLS or WABC were hard to pick up, I had other clear channel stations that I listened to after dark. Among those other stations: WOWO Fort Wayne, WCFL Chicago 1000 AM, CKLW Windsor, Ontario (Detroit) 800 AM, WKBW Buffalo 1520 AM and WKYC Cleveland 1100 AM.

Because of my love of listening to Top 40 radio during 1969, I set a goal that year of wanting to work as a DJ when I reached adulthood. My desire to work in radio became a reality for me at age 18, when I landed a remote engineer position with WROV Roanoke during 1974.

From my music collection of 45 rpm singles: “In the Year 2525” by Zager & Evans and “Israelites” by Desmond Dekker & the Aces.

What exactly is a “One Hit Wonder?” The basic definition: An artist has only one hit song during their career on the national Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. This music blog message pertains solely to hit songs within the United States.

To avoid any confusion, here are the criteria that I am using to define a “one hit wonder”:

  • No other songs from an artist ever peaking at number 41 or higher on the Billboard National Pop Chart.
  • One hit wonders vary from country to country. An artist may have just one hit in the United States but may 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 songs 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.

From my music collection of 45 rpm singles: “Worst That Could Happen” by Brooklyn Bridge and “Smile a Little Smile For Me” by The Flying Machine.

WROV Roanoke Survey June 29, 1969. Courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

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: Leading me to research 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.

Before I start my “one hit wonder” countdown, I am listing the 15 biggest songs of 1969 according to Billboard Magazine. NONE OF THE FIFTEEN SONGS LISTED BELOW ARE ONE HIT WONDERS.

1          “Sugar, Sugar” The Archies

2          “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”  The 5th Dimension

3          “I Can’t Get Next to You”  The Temptations

4          “Honky Tonk Women”  The Rolling Stones

5          “Everyday People”  Sly and the Family Stone

6          “Dizzy” Tommy Roe

7          “Hot Fun in the Summertime”  Sly and the Family Stone

8          “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” Tom Jones

9          “Build Me Up Buttercup”  The Foundations

10        “Crimson and Clover” Tommy James and the Shondells

11        “One”  Three Dog Night

12        “Crystal Blue Persuasion”  Tommy James and the Shondells

13        “Hair”  The Cowsills

14        “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” Marvin Gaye

15        “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet”  Henry Mancini

From my music collection of 45 rpm singles: “More Today Than Yesterday” by Spiral Starecase and “My Pledge of Love” by the Joe Jeffrey Group.

As I surveyed all the top 40 hits from 1969, I found 25 high quality singles that are on my countdown of one hit wonders for that year.  These are songs that I deem to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.

I submit to you, my top 25 best one hit wonder songs from 1969.  As Casey Kasem used to say on his weekly American Top 40 show: “Now on with the countdown.”

From my music collection of 45 rpm singles: “When I Die” by Motherlode & “Jesus is a Soul Man” by Lawrence Reynolds. I bought both records during the fall of 1969.

25.  Jesus is a Soul Man—Lawrence Reynolds

Peak Position on the Billboard Hot 100:  #28

Lawrence Taylor was a country singer.  Crossed over to Top 40 radio with a gospel song.

24.  Morning Girl—The Neon Philharmonic

Peak Position on the Billboard Hot 100: #17

Psychedelic pop band led by conductor Tupper Saussy and singer Don Gant.  Song featured the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

23.  Sugar on Sunday—The Clique

Peak Position on the Billboard Hot 100:  #22

Sunshine pop band from Beaumont, Texas.  Song Written by Tommy James.

22.  In the Year 2525—Zager & Evans

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #1, Hot 100:  26th Biggest Hit of 1969

Nebraska folk rock duo. Apocalyptic message.  Peaked at number one: Group never had another song crack the Billboard Hot 100 again.

21.  Israelites—Desmond Dekker & the Aces

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:  #9 Hot 100

Desmond Dekker was a Jamaican ska/reggae singer-songwriter.  Among the first reggae songs to reach the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

20.  Tracy—The Cuff Links

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  # 9, Hot 100:  81st Biggest Hit 1969

Pop rock studio band. Vocals on “Tracy” were by Ron Dante. He also was the lead singer on the song “Sugar, Sugar” by the fictitious group called the Archies.  Both songs spent 3 simultaneous weeks inside the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, during October 1969.

19.  Good Old Rock & Roll—Cat Mother & the All Night News Boys

Peak Position on Billboard Chart   #21 Hot 100

Cat Mother & band covers snippets of these 50s hits: “Sweet Little Sixteen”  Chuck Berry, “Long Tall Sally” Little Richard, “Chantilly Lace”  The Big Bopper, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”  Jerry Lee Lewis, “Blue Suede Shoes”  Carl Perkins, and “Party Doll”  Buddy Knox.

18.  Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’—Crazy Elephant

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #12 Hot 100, 89th Biggest Hit 1969

Crazy Elephant was a studio group of musicians created by bubble gum music pioneers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz.  The tune falls into the category of Frat Rock.

17.  When I Die—Motherlode

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts.  #18, Hot 100. 71st Biggest Hit 1969

Canadian pop rock band from London, Ontario.  Song should not be confused with another fall of ’69 hit: “And When I Die” from Blood Sweat & Tears.

16.  You, I—The Rugbys

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:  #24 Hot 100

Psychedelic hard rock band from Louisville, Kentucky.  Toured with the James Gang, Bob Seger and Grand Funk Railroad before disbanding the early 70s.

15.  Baby It’s You—Smith

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #5 Hot 100, 34th Biggest Hit 1969

“Baby It’s You” was originally recorded by the Shirelles and the Beatles.  Smith’s lead singer Gayle McCormick provides a soulful vocal performance on this blues rock cover.

14.  Did You See Her Eyes—The Illusion

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:   #32 Hot 100

Long Island, New York psychedelic-driving hard rock band.  The Illusion opened up for the Who, Chicago, Jimi Hendrix Experience and the Allman Brothers during the band’s active years.

13.  Birthday—Underground Sunshine

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:  #26 Hot 100

“Birthday” was a cover song from the 1968 Beatles’ “White Album.”  Underground Sunshine was a pop/psychedelic rock band from Montello, Wisconsin.

12.  Hot Smoke & Sassafras—The Bubble Puppy

Peak Position on the Billboard Chart:   #12, Hot 100

Biggest psychedelic rock single of 1969 was “Hot Smoke & Sassafras.”  The Bubble Puppy formed in San Antonio during 1966 and rocks hard on this psychedelia masterpiece.

11.  My Pledge of Love—Joe Jeffrey Group

Peak Position on the Billboard Chart:  #14, Hot 100

Joe Jeffrey and his group were a R&B group from Cleveland, Ohio.  “My Pledge of Love” was a top 10 hit in Canada.

10.  Color Him Father—The Winstons

Peak Positions on the Billboard Charts:  #7 Hot 100, 65th Biggest hit 1969

The Winstons were an unrelated ensemble of guys, who performed soul music.  Their hit “Color Him Father” won a Grammy Award for the “Best Rhythm and Blues Song” fifty-two years ago.

9.    More Today Than Yesterday—Spiral Starecase

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #12 Hot 100,  50th Biggest Hit 1969

Sunshine pop song featuring excellent saxophone.  Band from Sacramento, California known for its horn section.

8.    The Worst That Could Happen—The Brooklyn Bridge

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #3 Hot 100, 74th Biggest Hit 1969

Song written by Jimmy Webb.  Johnny Maestro lead singer of Brooklyn Bridge. A portion of Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” is played towards end of the tune.

7.    Black Pearl—Sonny Charles & the Checkmates, Ltd.

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #13 Hot 100,  #66 Biggest Hit 1969

R&B group from Fort Wayne, Indiana and “Black Pearl” was produced by Phil Spector.  Sonny Charles has lead vocals with Checkmates summer hit.

6.    Polk Salad Annie—Tony Joe White

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #8 Hot 100, 77th Biggest Hit 1969

Nicknamed “The Swamp Fox” in his native Louisiana state, Tony Joe White is best known for the genre of music called Swamp Rock. White wrote “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia” which was a top 10 hit for Brook Benton during 1970.

5.    Smile a Little Smile for Me—The Flying Machine

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #5 Hot 100, 76th Biggest Hit 1969

Flying Machine was a British pop group.  Their only hit is a soft rock ballad about unrequited love. The band broke up in 1970.

4.    Love (Can Make You Happy)—Mercy

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #2 Hot 100, 42nd Biggest Hit 1969

The American pop group Mercy came from Florida.  “Love (Can Make You Happy)” was written by band member Jack Sigler, Jr. It features tight harmonies on this melodic soft rock tune.

3.    Get Together—The Youngbloods

Peak positions on the Billboard Charts:  #5 Hot 100, #16 Biggest Hit 1969

 The Youngbloods lead by Jesse Colin Young, recorded one of the best peace songs of the 20th century with “Get Together.”   Originally released as a single in 1967, the song became a hit two years later during the summer of 1969.

2.    I Got a Line on You—Spirit

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #25 Hot 100

Formed in Los Angeles, California, Spirit was an underrated band. Combining psychedelic/hard rock with jazz, this group was a pioneer in what became known as progressive rock. “I Got a Line on You” was written by Spirit member Randy California and Jay Ferguson handles vocals on the song. This toe-tapping tune is my second favorite 1969 one hit wonder.

  1. Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye—Steam

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:  #1 Hot 100

“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” was written by Paul Leka, Gary DeCarlo and Dale Frashuer in the early 60s.  In 1968, DeCarlo recorded 4 singles for Mercury Records as a solo artist.  One of those singles needed a B-side so DeCarlo brought Leka and Frashuer into the studio to record “Kiss Him Goodbye.”

The trio didn’t have a group name for their newly recorded song, so they came up with the fictitious band they named “Steam.”  “Kiss Him Goodbye” spent two weeks at number 1 during December 1969 and was still a top ten record on the Billboard Hot 100 during January 1970.

My 45 rpm single of “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” that I bought in 1969 and still own in 2021.

The popularity of “Na Na Hey Hey” has remained strong since the song was first a hit. The song is regularly heard at many professional, college and high school sporting events during the 21st Century.  There is an excellent chance to hear (Na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye) at just about any type of sporting contest conducted in 2021.

Without a doubt, “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)” is the best one hit wonder of 1969.

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on “one hit wonders” of 1969, I am curious to find out your opinion on the music from that year.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of the “one hit wonder” songs from 1969. The songs that you might feel are the best, maybe be completely different from my selections.

From my music collection of 45 rpm singles: “Get Together” by the Youngbloods & “Love (Can Make You Happy)” by Mercy.

I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the best “one hit wonders” of 52 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.  I cherish and fondly remember my favorite “one hit wonders” of 1969.  Rock on!

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

Motown Magic Detroit Years: 20 Best Artists and Songs 1961-1971

Photo above by Julianne Woodson

What are the best songs of all time from the Detroit years of Motown Records?  If I asked 100 random people that question, I would come up with one hundred different responses. Obviously, there are no definitive answers with that type of inquiry.

My latest music blog message came after I read an article from USA Today online on 2/9/21, called “Motown hits: The 50 best and essential songs. This piece was a reprint of a story from the Detroit Free Press by Brian McCollum.

From my music collection: Diana Ross & the Supremes Greatest Hits vinyl record album.

While McCollum listed a total of 50 songs in the article, I am only going to post the Top 10 singles from Motown’s Detroit era (1959-1972), as selected by the Detroit Free Press and its readers to commemorate the label’s 50th anniversary.

  1. ABC—Jackson 5 (1970)
  2. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough—Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (1967)
  3. Ain’t That Peculiar—Marvin Gaye (1965)
  4. Ain’t Too Proud to Beg—The Temptations. (1966)
  5. Ask the Lonely—The Four Tops (1965)
  6. Baby I Need Your Loving—The Four Tops (1964)
  7. Baby Love—The Supremes (1964)
  8. Back in My Baby’s Arms—The Supremes (1965)
  9. Bernadette—The Four Tops (1967)
  10. Come See About Me—The Supremes (1964)

From my music collection: 45 rpm single of “The Tears of a Crown” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.

The problem that I see with the above listing:  Eight out of the ten songs are by just three artists.  There are 3 songs by both the Supremes and the Four Tops, while Marvin Gaye has two selections. That is a lopsided list of Motown artists and songs.

There are no Stevie Wonder, Miracles, or Gladys Knight tunes listed?  Same with Martha and the Vandellas?   In my humble opinion, the Detroit Free Press could have come up with a different set of metrics to better enhance their Top 10 listing of core Motown songs.

My dissatisfaction with the Detroit Free Press listing caused me to ponder:  What do I consider to be the best Motown songs from the early days?  You probably have guessed already that I have come up with my own listing of greatest Motown singles.

From my music collection: The Best of the Four Tops CD

I will be counting down my top 20 top Motown artists and songs. Before I share my selections, I want to give a brief history of Motown Records from the Detroit years (1959-1972).

Barry Gordy Jr. founded the company during 1959 which was known then as Tamla Records.  The name Motown was incorporated the next year in 1960, and was a tribute to Detroit, which was known as “Motor City” due to it being the auto manufacturing capital of America.

Motown helped to define “Soul Music” during the early 60s, with Black artists crossing over to audiences on Top 40 radio.  From 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100.

From my music collection: Jackson 5 Greatest Hits vinyl record album.

Songs of note during the first years of Motown:  The Miracles “Shop Around” was the first crossover hit for Tamla Records during 1960 and reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. A year later, Motown had its first number 1 record on the Billboard chart with “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes.

In addition to the Tamla name, there were a number of other sub record labels that were distributed under the Motown banner.  Gordy, Soul, Rare Earth and V.I.P. were other prominent sub recording labels associated with Motown music during the Detroit years.

The showcasing of vocal talent for Motown songs was enhanced by a group of session musicians based out of Detroit: The Funk Brothers. These instrumentalists are credited with playing on a majority of Motown hit songs between 1959 and 1972. The excellent musicianship of the Funk Brothers helped to create “Motown Magic.”

From my music collection: 45 rpm singles “I Know (I’m Losing You)” from the Temptations & Rare Earth

For this music blog message, I will countdown what I consider to be the best 20 Motown songs by 20 different artists.  Here are the rules and criteria that I set forth for this musical exercise:

  • I have selected 20 different songs by 20 artists.
  • Of the 20 artists, only Marvin Gaye has two songs. (first a duet with female singer and the second a solo song).
  • Only Motown artists are listed. That means superb soul artists like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke are not included on my countdown.
  • I deem each of my selections to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant. 
  • All 20 songs are among my favorites from the time period of 1961-1971.

My reference for chart performances of the 20 songs on the countdown comes from “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” by Joel Whitburn.  Way before the advent of the Internet, Whitburn’s book has been my main reference guide and I consider it to be the “bible” for Top 40 music information.  I still proudly still own a hard copy of this excellent book here in 2021.

And as Casey Kasem used to say on his American Top 40 weekly broadcasts, on with the countdown:

20.  Please Mr. Postman—The Marvelettes  1961

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, #1 R&B.

First crossover number 1 song for Motown.  On Billboard Hot 100: December 1961.

Marvin Gaye played drums on tune. The Beatles and the Carpenters both had notable cover versions of the song.

19.  My Guy—Mary Wells. 1964

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, #1 R&B, 7th Biggest Songs of 1964

Written and produced by Smokey Robinson. First Motown female solo singer to reach number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Biggest hit song during the career for Mary Wells.

18.  It’s a Shame—The Spinners. 1970

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #14 Hot 100, #3 R&B, 76th Biggest Hit of 1970

Biggest charting song for Spinners on Motown label.  Co-written by Stevie Wonder, Syreeta Wright and Lee Garrett.  Group went on to have 14 Top 40 hits. Billboard Hot 100 between 1972 and 1980.

17.  My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)—David Ruffin  1969

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #9 Hot 100, #2 R&B, 97th Biggest Song of 1969

David Ruffin was a former member of the Temptations.  First hit as a solo artist.  The song with its melody and intro is based upon the classical music piece “Frühlingslied” by Felix Mendelssohn.

16.  War—Edwin Starr. 1970

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, #3 R&B, 5th Biggest Song of 1970

One of the best anti-war protest songs from the 20th Century.  Edwin Starr earned a Grammy nomination for “War” in 1971.  The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame during 1999.

15.  I Just Want to Celebrate—Rare Earth. 1971

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #7 Hot 100, #30 R&B, 66th Biggest Song of 1971

Blue eyed soul. Rare Earth was the first all-white rock band signed to Motown.  Barry Gordy created a subsidiary label called Rare Earth Records for the band.  Had three Top 10 hits on Billboard Hot 100 during 1970 and 1971.

From my music collection: 45 rpm single of “I Just Want To Celebrate” by Rare Earth

14.  What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)—Jr. Walker and the All Stars. 1969

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #4 Hot 100, #1 R&B, #20 Biggest Songs of 1969

Excellent tenor saxophone solos and vocals by Junior Walker. Other instrumentation by the All-Stars with members of The Funk Brothers and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Last Top 10 hit for this Motown band.

From my music collection: 45 rpm single of “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” by Jr. Walker & the All Stars.

13.  Smiling Faces Sometimes—The Undisputed Truth. 1971

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #2 R&B, #3 Hot 100:  14th biggest hit of 1971

Psychedelic soul trio consisting of Joe Harris, Billie Calvin and Brenda Evans. The lyrics of the song are about “back stabbing” friends and the consequences of those actions.  The Funk Brothers session band provides outstanding musicianship and the singers maintains excellent harmonies on this melodic tune.

From my music collection: The Undisputed Truth CD with song “Smiling Faces Sometimes.”

12.  What Becomes of the Broken Hearted—Jimmy Ruffin. 1966

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:   #6 B&B, #7 Hot 100

Jimmy Ruffin was the older brother of the Temptations lead-singer David Ruffin.  One of Motown’s most enduring songs from the 60s.  Was Jimmy Ruffin’s biggest record during his career.

11.  This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)—The Isley Brothers. 1966

Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #6 R&B, #12 Hot 100,  98th biggest song of 1966

The Isley Brothers only major hit while on the Motown label. Group went on to have 9 Top 40 hits between 1969 and 1980.  Rod Stewart and Ronald Isley peaked at number 10 on Billboard Hot 100 in 1990, with a cover of this classic Motown song.

10.   Dancing in the Street—Martha and the Vandellas. 1964

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #2 Hot 100, 17th biggest song of 1964. 

Rolling Stone magazine ranks this Motown tune as the “Best Summer Song of all Time.”  The song also is considered by some as a civil rights anthem. Martha Reeves invites listeners where ever they may live, to celebrate, have a good time and to “Dance in the Street.”

9.     I Heard It Through the Grapevine—Gladys Knight and the Pips 1967

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #1 R&B, #2 Hot 100

As a response to Aretha Franklin’s song “Respect”, Gladys Knight used the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section to record a funk version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”  Knight’s number 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 happened a year before Marvin Gaye’s 1968 number one smash cover of “Grapevine.” The song is a true Motown soul classic!

8.     Bernadette—The Four Tops. 1967

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #3 R&B, #4 Hot 100, 82nd biggest song of 1967

 One of Motown’s greatest bass lines is found on this song.  Levi Stubbs provides outstanding vocals on the Four Tops last top 10 hit of the 60s. A false ending and Stubbs shouting “Bernadette” creates a memorable lasting impression on this wonderful tune.

7.     The Tracks of My Tears—Smokey Robinson and the Miracles 1965

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #2 R&B, #16 Hot 100. 78th biggest songs of 1965

 Co-written by Smokey Robinson, Pete Moore, and Marv Tarplin, “The Tracks of My Tears” is among the most decorated songs in Motown history. The song has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and is considered one of the greatest songs of the 20th Century.

6.     Stop! In the Name of Love—The Supremes 1965

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, #2 R&B. 20th biggest songs of 1965

The Supremes are the most successful Motown artist of all time. The trio of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballad were golden with their vocal harmonies on this hit. “Stop! In the Name of Love” was the 4th of 5 consecutive number 1 songs for America’s top girl group during 1964 and 1965.

5.     I Want You Back—The Jackson 5. 1969/1970

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, #1 R&B, 28th biggest songs of 1970.

Debut single from the Gary, Indiana Jackson family. It was the first of four consecutive singles to reach number 1 on Billboard Hot 100 during 1970.  “I Want You Back” is known for the killer bass line played by Wilton Felder. Many music critics proclaim the tune has one of the greatest chord progressions in pop music history.

4.     Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours—Stevie Wonder. 1970

Peak Position Billboard Charts:  #1R&B, #3 Hot 100 31st biggest songs of 1970

Opening up this pleasing toe-tapping tune is the distinctive sitar riff performed by Eddie Willis. Stevie Wonder produced his own song, and it was his first composition to feature 3 female backup singers. It was the beginning of Wonder’s influence as a musical pioneering maestro during the 70s decade.

3.     What’s Going On—Marvin Gaye. 1971

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #1 R&B, #2 Hot 100, 21st biggest song of 1971

1971 was a troublesome time in America.  Marvin Gaye’s socially conscious song “What’s Going On” 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 in 2021. 

“What’s Going On” is among the best and most loved tunes in Motown musical history. Rolling Stone ranks it at number 4 on their, “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” listing.  Numerous other music publications place the tune among the best songs from the 20th Century. The “What’s Going On” single remains a crown jewel with Marvin Gaye’s solo discography projects.

From my music collection: CD cover of “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.

2.     Ain’t No Mountain High Enough—Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell  1967

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #3 R&B, #19 Hot 100, 87th biggest song of 1967

Coming in at number 2 on my countdown, is what I consider to be the best Motown duet of all time:  “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. With instrumentation by the Funk Brothers and Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Terrell/Gaye duo have a perfect pop song.

The song was written by Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Although Diana Ross’ cover version of Ashford/Simpson’s song was a number 1 crossover hit during 1970, I prefer the rich vocal harmonies of Terrell and Gaye’s original. 

Whenever I need a Motown music fix, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell is excellent medicine for my listening pleasure.

1.     My Girl—The Temptations  1965

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Hot 100, #1 R&B,  10th biggest song of 1965

Written and produced by the Miracles members Smokey Robinson and Ronald White, “My Girl” by the Temptations is my number 1 selection as “Best Motown Song” from the Detroit years.

David Ruffin was picked by Smokey Robinson to sing lead vocals on the tune, which became the first number 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for the Temptations. “My Girl” is now considered a signature song for the vocal group.

The Temptations song “My Girl” is one of Motown’s most successful and well-known singles.  It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 and placed in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress during 2017.

Without a doubt, the feel-good pop classic by the Temptations is my favorite Motown song of all time.  “My Girl” is “Motown Magic” for me!

From my record collection: 45 rpm singles of “My Girl” and “Psychedelic Shack” by the Temptations.

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on the best songs of Motown, I am curious to find out your opinion.  What do you feel are the greatest singles with the Detroit era of Motown Records? I look forward reading your comments on this topic. 

I would also challenge you to come up with your own favorite top Motown songs music list. After compiling your own listing, maybe you can create your own playlist of favorite songs with this Motown category?  On Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Amazon or any other music platform outlet?

Photo of a Motown album sleeve from my personal record collection.

I cherish and fondly remember the music of Motown during my youth.  It was and still is magic to me. I leave you with lyrics to another legendary Motown magical song: “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder.  Rock on!

“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 that it is and always will

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

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1971: Superb One Hit Wonders

Photo above by Julianne Woodson

Since the earliest days of rock and roll music during the 1950s, one hit wonders have always existed on Top 40 radio.  Artists who had one big hit and then faded into oblivion.

With this edition of my musical musings, I am concentrating on the superb “One hit wonders” of 1971.  I will be counting down the top songs in this category from 50 years ago.

What exactly is a “One Hit Wonder?” The basic definition: An artist has only one hit song during their career on the national Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. This music blog message pertains solely to hit songs within the United States.

 

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 41 or higher on the Billboard National Pop Chart.
  • One hit wonders vary from country to country. An artist may have just one hit in the United States but may 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.”

Photo of my 45 rpm single of “Here Comes the Sun” by Richie Havens. A record that I bought in the summer of 1971 and still own here in 2021.

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.

I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia and have fond memories listening to Top 40 radio in 1971.

During daylight hours, I would tune into a couple of Roanoke Valley stations:  WROV 1240 AM and WBLU 1480 AM. 

WROV was the top-rated radio station in Roanoke and the DJs that I remember during this time period were Bart Prater, Larry Bly, Jack Fisher, Dan Alexander, Ron Tompkins and Phil Beckman.

WROV Roanoke DJ Jack Fisher drinking milk at remote broadcast. Photo is courtesy of the WROV History Online Website/Pat Garrett.

At sundown, WROV reduced their power and WBLU signed off the air.  I would then listen to a variety of 50,000-watt clear channel AM stations at night.

The two main stations that I listened to during the nighttime were WLS 890 AM Chicago and WABC 770 AM New York. On the Big 89 WLS, Larry Lujack, Chuck Buell, Kris Erik Stevens and Scotty Brink were my favorite DJs. When listening to WABC, Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow) are the two radio DJ voices that I remember from 1971.

WLS Chicago Surveys from 1/18/71 and 8/23/71. Photo is courtesy of Pete Battistini: Author of the book, American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1970’s).

On nights that WLS or WABC were hard to pick up, I had other clear channel stations for my listening pleasure. Among those other stations were, WOWO Fort Wayne 1190 AM, WCFL Chicago 1000 AM, CKLW Windsor, Ontario (Detroit) 800 AM, WKBW Buffalo 1520 AM and WKYC Cleveland 1100 AM.

At the end of 1971, Billboard Magazine published the top hits of the year. Below all the Top 10 hits from that year.  All artists listed on the year-end Top 10 chart had more than one hit during their careers.

1          “Joy to the World”      Three Dog Night

2          “Maggie May”/”Reason to Believe”   Rod Stewart

3          “It’s Too Late”/”I Feel the Earth Move”          Carole King

4          “One Bad Apple”         The Osmonds

5          “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”           Bee Gees

6          “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)”

               Paul Revere and the Raiders                               

7          “Go Away Little Girl”   Donny Osmond

8          “Take Me Home, Country Roads”      John Denver

9          “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)”     Temptations

10        “Knock Three Times”  Tony Orlando and Dawn 

Photo of my 45 rpm single that I bought in 1971 and still own today. “Cherish What Is Dear To You (While It’s Near To You” by Freda Payne. This artist is not a one hit wonder.

For the remainder of this message, I will be focusing on the musical year of 1971 and the numerous excellent one hit wonder songs during this golden year of Top 40 radio. 

Before I start my 1971 one hit wonders countdown, I will be sharing with you a band whom I thought only had 1 hit in America.  However, the Canadian group is a “Two Hit Wonder.”

“Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind

Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

True Confession:  Before I started writing this music blog message, I always assumed the song “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band as the best one hit wonder of 1971. However, that is erroneous information.  The Canadian rock group from Ottawa, Ontario had a second 1971 hit with “Absolutely Right” which peaked at number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Signs” peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the 24th biggest record for the entire year of 1971.  It’s an all-time favorite song for me and my selection as the best “Two Hit Wonder” from 50 years ago.

Besides the excellent song “Signs” and the Five Man Electrical Band, there are a few other “Two hit wonders” that I want to highlight on this message. Another Canadian band in this category are the Stampeders. Formed in Calgary, Alberta, the band reached number 8 with “Sweet City Woman.”  They had a second top 40 hit in America with, “Hit the Road Jack” during 1975.

Photos of 45 rpm singles that I own here in 2021: Both were two hit wonders. “Do You Know What I Mean” came from a jukebox, while “Sweet City Woman” is a single that I bought during the summer of 1971.

I also want to share a couple of other prominent “Two hit wonders” from 1971. American rock musician Lee Michaels hit the top 40 twice that year: “Do You Know What I Mean” reached number 6 and his follow up hit, “Can I Get a Witness” peaked at number 39. 

Welsh singer-songwriter and guitarist Dave Edmonds reached number 2 with “I Hear Your Knocking” during 1971. His song, “Slipping Away” peaked at number 39 during 1983 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Photo of my 45 rpm singles that I bought in 1971 and still own here in 2021. Both are one hit wonders.

As I evaluated the data from the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitman, there are two outlier songs that are technically one hit wonders:  But I refuse to place either of those artists and/or their songs in that category.

  • “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin.  This posthumous number 1 song was Joplin’s only Top 40 hit.  She did have two other solo just outside of number 40: “Kozmic Blues” reached 41 and “Cry Baby” peaked at number 42. Joplin also reached number 12 in 1968 with “Piece of My Heart” with Big Brother & Holding Company. In my humble opinion, Ms. Joplin should never be considered a one hit wonder.
  • “Chicago” by Graham Nash.   Is this really a solo song or a band hit? Peaking at number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Chicago” is found on two albums:  It was released first on the Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s, “4 Way Street” album during April 1971. Then one month later, it showed up on Graham Nash’s debut solo album, “Songs For Beginners.”  With Nash having multiple hits with the Hollies and CSN&Y, he doesn’t deserve the title or status as a one hit wonder artist.

Most of the true one hit wonders from 1971 are songs that I do not mind hearing 50 years later. However, there are a couple of novelty songs in this category that I never, ever want to hear again in my life:

  •  Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep–Mac and Katie Kisson
  •  Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It)–Daddy Dewdrop

Before starting the countdown of my favorite Top 13 “one hit wonder” favorites, here are five singles that peaked between numbers 26 and 40:

  • I’d Love to Change the World—Ten Years After
  • Games—Redeye
  • Hallelujah—Sweat Hog
  • Resurrection Shuffle—Ashton, Gardner and Dyke
  • 1900 Yesterday—Liz Damon’s Orient Express

Now it is time for my countdown:  A baker’s dozen of what I consider to be the best one hit wonders of 1971:

13.   I’ve Found Someone on My Own—The Free Movement

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #5 Hot 100, #7 AC

 The Free Movement was a soul/R&B ensemble from Los Angeles, California.  Their mellow soft rock hit was the 27th biggest record of 1971.

12.   Timothy—The Buoys

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #17 Hot 100:  87th biggest hit of 1971

Pop/rock band from the Wilkes-Barre-Scranton, Pennsylvania area. This controversial song written by Rupert Holmes, featured lyrics about a coal mine disaster and cannibalism. The message of the song was problematic. Nevertheless, it was still a hit.

11.    Get It On—Chase

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:  #24 Hot 100

Bill Chase formed a jazz-rock fusion band named after himself. The song “Get It On” sounds similar to what rock bands Chicago or Blood Sweat & Tears recorded during the early 70s.

10.    Funky Nassau—The Beginning of the End

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #15 Hot 100, #7 R&B:  75th biggest hit of 1971

From Nassau, Bahamas, the Beginning of the End played a variety of musical genres:  A hybrid of Funk, R&B, Calypso, Latin, Jazz and Pop.  Band was known for their horn section.

9.      Mr. Big Stuff—Jean Knight

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #1 R&B, #2 Hot 100:  17th biggest hit of 1971

A sassy, upbeat soul song, that has an excellent bass line. Jean Knight’s song was nominated for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance at the 1972 Grammy Awards.

8.      Here Comes the Sun—Richie Havens

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #16 Hot 100:  95th biggest hit of 1971

 1969 Woodstock singer-songwriter and guitarist Richie Havens performs a superb mid-tempo cover of this George Harrison song.  The combination of accompanied conga drum playing, along with Havens’ excellent guitar riffs, makes for an outstanding musical performance.

7.      Put Your Hand in the Hand—Ocean

Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100:  33rd Biggest Hit of 1971

Originally recorded by Anne Murray, the Canadian band Ocean had an international smash with their gospel song.  “Put Your Hand in the Hand” has been covered by many artists over the years, including by Elvis Presley, Loretta Lynn, Lynn Anderson, Joan Baez and Randy Stonehill. The song was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.

6.      One Toke Over the Line—Brewer and Shipley

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #10 Hot 100:  63rd Biggest Hit of 1971

American folk rock duo Brewer & Shipley had a contentious hit song during 1971, with lyrics mentioning Jesus and drug usage. According to Wikipedia: “U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew, tried to get the FCC to ban the song on American radio.”  Obviously, Agnew wasn’t successful banning “One Tote Over the Line” and it can still be heard on U.S. radio here in 2021.

5.      Toast and Marmalade for Tea—Tin Tin

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:  #20 Hot 100

Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees produced the only hit for the Australian rock band.  Tin Tin’s song features tight harmonies and starts off with a distinctive piano melody. The tune then builds by adding multiple guitars, bass, drums, brass and stringed instruments, making a pleasing crescendo at the end of the song.

4.       Rings—Cymarron

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #17 Hot 100, #6 AC

Cymarron was a band out of Memphis, Tennessee and they named their band after a 60’s TV show called, “Cimarron Strip.”  Lyrics to the song mentions listening to “James Taylor on the stereo” and is considered a quintessential soft rock tune of the early 70s. Tompall & the Glaser Brothers recorded a cover version of “Rings” and it reached number 7 on the Billboard County Singles Chart.  Their rendition mentions listening to “Merle Haggard on the stereo.”

3.       Woodstock—Matthews Southern Comfort

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #23 Hot 100

A song that Joni Mitchell wrote during 1969, “Woodstock” had already been a hit for Crosby Stills Nash & Young during the Spring of 1970. British country folk/rock band Matthews Southern Comfort recorded another cover of Mitchell’s anthem, and their version became a hit in 1971.  This newer version of the song featured a slower tempo and had a country/rock vibe.  Ironically, Ian Matthews left his own band before “Woodstock” became a hit in America.

2.       Wedding Song (There is Love)—Paul Stookey

Peak positions on Billboard Charts:  #3 AC, #24 Hot 100:  92nd biggest hit of 1971

Noel Paul Stookey first gain musical popularity with the folk-rock trio Peter, Paul and Mary in 1961.  Their group broke up for the first time during 1970 and Stookey’s only solo hit came the following year.  “Wedding Song (There is Love)” became a popular song played at weddings during the 70s and the tune is still performed at some marriage ceremonies nearly 50 years later.

  1.   Smiling Faces Sometimes—The Undisputed Truth

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #2 R&B, #3 Hot 100:  14th biggest hit of 1971

The Undisputed Truth was a psychedelic soul/R&B Motown trio consisting of Joe Harris, Billie Calvin and Brenda Evans. The lyrics of the song are about “back stabbing” friends and the consequences of those actions.  The Funk Brothers session band provides outstanding musicianship and the trio maintains excellent harmonies on this melodic tune. Without a doubt, “Smiling Faces Sometimes” is my favorite one hit wonder from 1971.

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on “one hit wonders” of 1971, I am curious to find out your opinion on the music from that year.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of the “one hit wonder” songs from 1971. 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.  I cherish and fondly remember my favorite “one hit wonders” of 1971.  Rock on!

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1985: Bodacious Contemporary Hit Radio Singles

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Time may change me but I can’t trace time.”  David Bowie’s lyrics are an accurate description for me during 1985. Thirty-five years ago, I was engaged in July and then married the love of my life at the end of December.

Fast forward to December 27, 2020: The day I am publishing this message. Today is my 35th wedding anniversary with Priscilla. As I celebrate with my wife, I am thankful for our time together since 1985 and looking forward to many more years together.  Priscilla:  I love you!

The year of 1985 was also a transition year for me listening to music on radio. It was the last year that I actively listened to popular songs on a daily basis:  On multiple radio stations playing current top-rated songs or watching music videos on MTV.  My desire to keep up with American Top 40 and the latest hit songs, waned after this time period.

Lyrics for the Guess Who’s 1969 hit, “No Time” conveys my radio listening habits after 1985: “Seasons changed and so did I, you need not wonder why, there’s no time left for you.” The music being played on all-hit radio stations was slowly changing.  By the end of the 80s decade, most of the top hits on the Billboard Hot 100, were no longer pleasing to my ears.

Since 1985 is the last year that I can give a complete overview of hit music on the radio, I will be counting down what I consider to be my favorite bodacious singles from the midway point of the 80s decade.

The number 1 song of 1985 was “Careless Whispers” by Wham! I prefer the other ’85 chart-topping song by the duo: “Everything She Wants.”

Radio & Records (R&R) was a trade publication providing news and airplay information for radio stations in America. During the early 80s, R&R coined the term Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) as a new description to the format formerly known as Top 40.  With the advent of the CHR name, most radio stations that had this format were located on the FM band.

During the early to mid 80s, I was drawn to the CHR format as I had worked in the radio industry as a young man.  My first radio position started in 1974 at Top 40 WROV 1240 AM Roanoke. After my radio career ended in 1980, I still had a keen interest with any radio station using a CHR or Top 40 hybrid format.

A framed WROV Roanoke poster that is owned by Barry Michaels: Who worked as a DJ at WROV from 1978 through 1981 and provided his photo for my music blog.

Whenever I traveled outside of my home of Roanoke, Virginia during the 80s, I would always seek out CHR/Top 40 radio stations, especially in major markets. Here are some of the CHR stations that I heard live in either 1983 and 1984, while I was on various vacations:

  • WCAU Philadelphia
  • Z100 New York
  • WPLJ New York
  • KISS 108 Boston
  • WTIC Harford
  • WPRO Providence

  • Q107 Washington
  • B104 Baltimore
  • Q94 Richmond
  • Z104 Norfork
  • KDWB Minneapolis

  • KITS San Francisco
  • KMEL San Francisco
  • KKHR Los Angeles
  • KIIS FM Los Angeles
  • B100 San Diego

K92 Roanoke DJ Staff on the cover of Roanoker Magazine. From Left: Bill Jordan, David Lee Michaels, John Berry, Larry Dowdy, Vince Miller and Russ Brown. Photo courtesy of Steve Nelson and the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Radio listening was huge for me during 1985 as I was employed by Kroger Distribution Center in Roanoke County, Virginia.  My position title was Transportation Supervisor for truck dispatch activities with our third shift overnight operations.  Each night while at work, I would listen to Roanoke Valley radio stations.

On a typical night during my shift, I would listen to a couple of radio stations while executing various job duties.  My choice of radio stations was limited:  Local Roanoke AM stations had weak night signals and the building structure prohibited clear access for those radio transmissions. WXLK (K92) and WSLQ (Q99) were the two stations I listened to nightly during 1985.

Q99 had a hybrid CHR/Adult Contemporary radio format during 1985. I listened to Q99 throughout the night as they featured a live syndicated show via satellite called Nighttime America (NA).  Legendary WCFL Chicago DJ Bob Dearborn was the host of NA and is known for his complete analysis of Don McLean’s epic song, “America Pie.”  Dearborn played all of the current 1985 top hits during his live radio broadcast.

K92 Roanoke morning “K Crew” staff. Larry Dowdy, Mike Stevens and Bill Jordan inside K92 studio. Photo courtesy of Larry Dowdy.

Then at 5:00 am every morning, I would switch over my radio to K92, the leading station of the Roanoke/Lynchburg market.  The morning drive “K Crew” of Bill Jordan, Larry Dowdy and Mike Stevens was always informative, entertaining and played all the current hits.  I always enjoyed hearing the smooth presentation of DJs Jordan and Dowdy on K92, and had the pleasure of working with both guys, when we all were employed by WROV Roanoke during 1975. 

During my non-employment hours 35 years ago, I would alternate listening to WROV, K92 and Q99. My preference during daytime hours was listening to WROV and DJ Rob O’Brady:  His vocal delivery style was personal, distinctive and warm.  I also would tune in to part time WROV weekend DJs Larry Bly, Fred Frelantz and Jack Fisher during 1985.

WROV 1240 AM DJ Rob O’Brady inside the station studio. Photo courtesy of Steve Nelson and the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

There were also a couple of other CHR FM stations out of North Carolina that I would listen to during day time hours, as both had strong signals that came in clearly at my Roanoke home:  WKZL (107.5) Winston-Salem and G105 (105.1) Raleigh/Durham.

K92 Roanoke DJs Tripper and Larry Dowdy inside the K92 studio. My thanks to Larry Dowdy for providing his photo to be used here.

On multiple weekends in 1985, I would travel to various locations inside the state of Virginia. The top five CHR stations I heard on these trips:

  • Z104 Norfolk
  • Q94 Richmond
  • Q107 Washington (Northern Virginia)
  • WAVA Washington (Northern Virginia)
  • B106 Washington (Northern Virginia)

In June, I went on vacation with my sister Kathryn. By auto, we traveled to Canada from our Roanoke home. While Kathryn and I were in Toronto, we saw Don McLean in concert at Ontario Place amphitheater. Below are the stations I remembering hearing on this trip:

  • Wink 104 Harrisburg
  • WGCL Cleveland
  • CHUM Toronto
  • CFTR Toronto
  • B94 Pittsburgh
  • WNCI Columbus
  • WHYT Detroit

My photo capturing the rocky coast of Maine. Location is Acadia National Park.

A couple month later in August, I made a trip to Union, Maine and met my future in-laws. With my fiancé Priscilla, I heard KISS 108 Boston, plus two CHR stations in Portland and Bangor. I remember first hearing “Cherish” by Kool and the Gang when Priscilla and I traveled to Lucia Beach at Birch Point Beach State Park, to view the rocky coast of Maine.

Then on my honeymoon in Florida during the last week of December, Priscilla and I listened to Q105 Tampa and BJ105 Orlando. While in Clearwater Beach, we heard “Living in America” by James Brown for the first time on the radio.

My wife Priscilla and her pelican friend at Clearwater Beach, Florida. On our honeymoon December 1985.

For the remainder of this message, I will be focusing on what I consider to be the essential CHR songs of 1985. With my extensive knowledge and listening to numerous CHR stations 35 years ago, I have come up with a countdown with my quintessential 1985 favorite tunes.

My reference for this subject 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.

Before revealing my top songs of 1985 countdown, I have tabulated 10 other songs that are favorites for me but failed to crack my Top 20 listing. These selections are not ranked and placed in a random order:

  • Walking on Sunshine—Katrina & the Waves
  • I Want to Know What Love Is—Foreigner
  • Better Be Good to Me—Tina Turner
  • Power of Love—Huey Lewis & the News
  • Summer of ’69—Bryan Adams
  • What About Love—Heart
  • Every Time You Go Away—Paul Young
  • No More Lonely Nights—Paul McCartney
  • Born in the U.S.A.–Bruce Springsteen
  • Don’t You (Forget About Me)—Simple Minds

Staring off my countdown are numbers 20 through 14. These are all excellent songs that I never get tired of hearing. As Casey Kasem used to say on his American Top 40 show,  “Now on with the countdown.”

20. Would I Lie To You?—Eurythmics

  Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #2 Rock, #5 Hot 100

Synthpop duo of Annie Lennox and David Stewart.   Rocked out changed directions. 

19. Old Man Down the Road—John Fogerty

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Rock, #10 Hot 100

Lead single from Fogerty comeback album “Centerfield.”    

18. Valotte—Julian Lennon

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #4 AC, #9 Hot 100

  John Lennon’s son. Second top 10 hit from debut album.   Melodic ballad.

17. Find a Way—Amy Grant

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #7 AC, #29 Hot 100

  Contemporary Christian Music singer.  First crossover hit.   

16. All She Wants To Do is Dance—Don Henley

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Rock, #9 Hot 100

First of two songs on countdown. Patty Smyth and Martha Davis background singers.

15. Shout—Tears for Fears

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, #6 Rock

One of three songs on countdown. Third consecutive top 10 smash.

14. Take on Me—A-ha 

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, #4 AC

Norwegian synth-pop band.  Award winning video.

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.

13. Money for Nothing—Dire Straits

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Hot 100, #1 Rock

Sting sings on song.  Performed at Live Aid July 1985.  Won a Grammy award.

12. The Heat is On—Glenn Frey

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #2 Hot 100, #4 Rock

Featured in film Beverly Hills Cop. Up tempo rock song with saxophone.

11. Fortress Around Your Heart—Sting

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Rock, #8 Hot 100

Second solo top 10 hit in 1985.   Excellent saxophone on pop/rock/jazz fusion tune.

10. Easy Lover—Phil Collins and Phillip Bailey

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Black Singles, #2 Hot 100

Power duet by Bailey from Earth Wind & Fire and Genesis member Collins. MTV Music Award.   Nominated Grammy.

9.   Never Surrender—Corey Hart

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #3 Hot 100, #8 AC

     Canadian singer. Soaring power ballad anthem featuring saxophone.   

8.   Things Can Only Get Better—Howard Jones

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #5 Hot 100, #21 Rock

British singer songwriter.   Feel good sunshine pop rock song.

7.   Head Over Heels—Tears for Fears

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #3 Hot 100, #7 Rock

Second of 3 songs on my top 20 list.  Third top 10 smash of 1985.  Song segue to instrumental ending medley.

6.   Voices Carry—’Til Tuesday

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #8 Hot 100, #14 Rock

  Aimee Mann excellent vocals.  MTV Music Award Winner.  Powerful dark vocals.

5.   Alive and Kicking—Simple Minds

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #2 Rock, #3 Hot 100

Scottish rock band. Jim Kerr singer/front man. Married Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders.

 4.   Broken Wings—Mr. Mister

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Hot 100, #4 Rock

Inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s novel Broken Wings.  First of two consecutive number 1 songs:  “Kyrie” hit top of Billboard Hot 100 in 1986.

 3.   Centerfield—John Fogerty

Peak position on Billboard Charts:  #4 Rock, #20 Hot 100 (As B-side of “Rock and Roll Girls” single).

Former Creedence Clearwater Revival leader. Major career comeback in 1985.  Song is honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

2.   The Boys of Summer—Don Henley

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Rock, #5 Hot 100

  Grammy award best rock performance. MTV Video of the year. Second biggest solo hit for Henley. Music composed by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

  1.  Everybody Wants to Rule the World—Tears for Fears

Peak position on Billboard Charts:   #1 Hot 100, #2 Rock

Incorporates synthesizers, drum and guitars.  Lyrics on environment, dictatorial rule, freedom, cold war, walls come tumbling down and short-lived financial success.  Message is still relevant in 2020. Perfect pop/rock song for the 80s decade.

Now that I have submitted my top 20 favorite CHR songs from 1985, I am curious to find out your thoughts on the biggest hits in America from the mid-point of the 80s decade.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with the critique of my favorite songs from 35 years ago.  Your top songs maybe be completely different than my selections.  There are no right or wrong answers, just various opinions. What do you feel are the best, greatest or most significant CHR songs from 1985?

My reflections of the music from 35 years ago, reminds me of another excellent song that was a hit during the summer of 1985: “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen.  Contemporary Hit Radio was strong, vibrant and alive during 1985.  It was truly the glory days for the CHR format in America.

Living in the past is never a good thing but remembering the excellent music found on CHR radio during 1985 remains strong in my memory bank.  I leave you with lyrics from my second favorite song from 1985: “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley:

“Out on the road today

I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac

A little voice inside my head said

“Don’t look back, you can never look back”

I thought I knew what love was, what did I know?

Those days are gone forever

I should just let them go”

Long live the quintessential CHR songs of 1985:  Rock on!

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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.

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—REO 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.

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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