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

Totally Tubular MTV Videos and Songs:  Aired During First Year 1981-1982

Photo above by Julianne Woodson

What are the best videos and songs that Music Television cable channel (MTV) aired during their first full year of operation?  Obviously, there are no definitive answers to my question.

However, I will be sharing what I consider to be the top 20 MTV songs and clips broadcast by the pioneer 24 hour-a-day music channel during their premiere year (August 1, 1981 – July 31, 1982).

During the first full year of MTV’s existence, the music video channel struggled as it was not available on most cable providers in the United States. It wasn’t until the third year of MTV that it became a major force and revolutionized the music industry.

MTV was launched the first day of August 1981.  The new cable channel played music videos 24 hours-a-day and featured hosts known as video jockeys (VJs).  These individuals gave information on the music clips played and provided news about the artists that aired on MTV.

The programming that MTV utilized during the first year was similar to AOR (Album Oriented Rock) or Top 40 radio formats. Initially, MTV played established artists but later became a venue for many new pop rock bands during the second and third years of operation.

According to Wikipedia, here are the first 10 videos aired by MTV on August 1, 1981:

* “Video Killed the Radio Star” The Buggles

       *   “You Better Run” Pat Benatar

       *    “She Won’t Dance With Me” Rod Stewart

       *   “You Better You Bet” The Who

       *   “Little Suzi’s on the Up” Ph. D.

       *   “We Don’t Talk Anymore” Cliff Richard

       *   “Brass in Pocket” The Pretenders

       *    “Time Heals” Todd Rundgren

       *    “Take It on the Run” REO Speedwagon

       *    “Rockin’ the Paradise” Styx

Videos for songs played within the first year of MTV must be judged differently than clips made during the 1983 to 1985 time period.  Many of the early clips aired on MTV were of concert footage or live show performances. The production of concept videos soared after MTV’s debut and was a mainstay for the music TV cable channel during the 80s decade.

By 1985, there were many excellent created videos that made the MTV hot rotation.  “Take On Me” by the Norwegian synth-pop band A-ha had a superb clip. The award-winning video used pencil-sketched animation and live-action footage combination called rotoscoping.

Another bodacious video clip from 1985 is “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits. Opening lyrics on the song are provided by guest vocalist Sting singing the promotional phrase of the video channel, “I Want My MTV.”  The ground breaking clip was MTV’s, “Video of the Year” in 1986.

When MTV started on 8/1/81, the music TV channel aired many existing videos of songs that had been top 40 hits from either 1980 or the first 7 months of 1981. 

Of the top 10 biggest records from 1981, only half of the songs had videos available that could be aired by MTV. Below are the Billboard top-rated songs of 1981:

1          “Bette Davis Eyes”      Kim Carnes

2          “Endless Love” Diana Ross & Lionel Richie

3          “Lady” Kenny Rogers

4          “(Just Like) Starting Over”      John Lennon

5          “Jessie’s Girl”  Rick Springfield

6          “Celebration”  Kool & the Gang

7          “Kiss on My List”         Hall & Oates

8          “I Love a Rainy Night” Eddie Rabbitt

9          “9 To 5”           Dolly Parton

10        “Keep on Loving You” REO Speedwagon

After the launching of MTV, most every major record company would produce some type of music video for new song releases.  These record companies hoped that MTV would add their new song to its regular rotation of music clips.

Below are the ten biggest singles of 1982 according to Billboard and a selection from the videos MTV aired on their network:

1          “Physical”        Olivia Newton-John

2          “Eye of the Tiger”       Survivor

3          “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”    Joan Jett & The Blackhearts

4          “Ebony and Ivory”       Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder

5          “Centerfold”    The J. Geils Band

6          “Don’t You Want Me” The Human League

7          “Jack & Diane” John Cougar

8          “Hurts So Good”         John Cougar

9          “Abracadabra” Steve Miller Band

10        “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”           Chicago

One of the chief criticisms of MTV during its first 18 months of operation was the lack of music by Black artists being played on the cable TV channel.  It wasn’t until March 1983, that Michael Jackson’s video for “Billie Jean” was added and became the first video by a Black artist to be aired in heavy rotation on MTV. Without a doubt, “Billie Jean” is the best video from the second year of MTV.

For the rest of this message, I will be counting down what I consider to be the best songs and videos that were aired on MTV during the first 12 months.  My selections all were top 40 radio hits and peaked at number 20 or lower on the Billboard Hot 100 between August 1981 and July 1982.

Please note:  I am not declaring that my picks are either the “best or greatest” that MTV played during its first year.  The song choices are my personal favorites from this time period. I deem the top 20 songs to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.

Chart information for my favorite Top 20 MTV song of the countdown comes from, “The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits” by Joel Whitburn. I consider Whitburn’s publication to be the “bible” of Top 40 music reference and still proudly own a hard copy of this excellent music guide.

As legendary DJ host Casey Kasem used to proclaim on his weekly American Top 40 show, “Now on with the countdown.”

20.  Don’t Stop Believin’—Journey

Peak Positions of Billboard Charts:  #9 Hot 100: 73rd Biggest Song of 1982

First of two Journey songs on countdown. Arena rock anthem of the 80s.  Ranked at number 133 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” listing.

19.  Leader of the Band—Dan Fogelberg

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 AC: #9 Hot 100: 35th Biggest Song of 1982

Dan Fogelberg wrote “Leader of the Band” as a tribute to his father Lawrence Fogelberg. One of two songs on my countdown by the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who died in 2007.

18.  Waiting for a Girl Like You—Foreigner

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100: 19th Biggest Song of 1982

This power ballad spent 10 weeks in the number 2 position on the Billboard Hot 100 without ever reaching the top of the chart.  Thomas Dolby plays synthesizer on record-setting track.

17.  The Night Owls—The Little River Band

Peak Position on Billboard Charts: #6 Hot 100:  #9 Top Rock Tracks

Biggest Top 40 hit in the 80s for Australian rock band.  “Man on Your Mind” and “Take It Easy on Me” were two other hits Little River Band had during the first year of MTV.

16.  Who’s Crying Now—Journey

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Hot 100:  56th Biggest Song of 1981

Written by Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain. First single released from the Journey’s most successful album “Escape.”  Perry’s vocals are outstanding.  Second song from the arena rock band on my countdown.

15.  Heat of the Moment—Asia

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Hot 100: 40th Biggest Song of 1982

Debut single from English progressive rock supergroup. Band members John Wetton and Geoff Downes wrote the signature song for Asia.

14.  The Break Up Song (They Don’t Write Em)—Greg Kihn Band

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #15 Hot 100: 47th Biggest Song of 1981

Power pop rock band.  First of three Top 40 hits. Greg Kihn Band also scored with “Jeopardy” and “Lucky” during the 80s on MTV.

13.  Empty Garden—Elton John

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #13 Hot 100: 76th Biggest Song of 1982

Composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.  Tribute song to John Lennon, who was assassinated in New York City on December 8, 1980. Elton was friends with the former Beatle member, prior to Lennon’s death.

12.  The Voice—The Moody Blues

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #1 Mainstream Rock: #15 Hot 100

Second top 15 in 1981 hit for English progressive rock band. Along with “Gemini Dream” single, “The Voice” came from the Moody Blues comeback album, “Long Distance Voyager.”

11.  Young Turks—Rod Stewart

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #5 Hot 100:  48th Biggest Song of 1982

Rod Stewart changed musical sound on this hybrid pop/new wave/synthpop tune. “Young Turks” holds the distinction of being the first video aired on MTV containing breakdancing.

10.  Fire and Ice—Pat Benatar

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #2 Mainstream Rock #17 Hot 100

Pre-eminent rock singer of the early 80s. Pat Benatar won a Grammy award in 1982 for Best Female Rock Performance with “Fire and Ice.”

9.    Shake It Up—The Cars

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #4 Hot 100: 23rd Biggest Song of 1982

Danceable power pop rock describes the song written by Ric Ocasek. “Shake It Up” was one of the Cars biggest singles during the 80s.

8.    Chariots of Fire—Vangelis

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100: #1 Hot Soul Singles: 12th Biggest Song of 1982

“Chariots of Fire” was an unlikely instrumental Top 40 hit.  The song score was written by Vangelis and is featured in the British historical sports film Chariots of Fire. Melodic tune has been used on multiple Summer and Winter Olympic Game broadcasts since 1984.

7.    Edge of Seventeen—Stevie Nicks

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Mainstream Rock: #11 Hot 100:

Stevie Nicks wrote the song sub-titled “Just Like the White Wing Dove” as a result of two events happening the same week in December 1980:  The death of her uncle Jonathan and the assassination of John Lennon.  It is the first of two songs on my countdown by the Fleetwood Mac singer.

6.    I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)—Hall & Oates

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100:  15th Biggest Song of 1982

Daryl Hall and John Oates: Biggest duo of the 20th Century. Their song topped both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts in 1982.  Knocked off “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John” out of number 1 position after a 10-week run.

5.    867-5309/Jenny—Tommy Tutone

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #4 Hot 100: 16th Biggest Song of 1982

Tommy Tutone is a two-hit wonder. “Angel Say No” peaked at number 38 on Billboard Hot 100 in 1980.  867-5309 was a popular phone number of music fans throughout the 80s decade.

4.    Run for the Roses—Dan Fogelberg

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #3 Adult Contemporary #18 Hot 100

My second Dan Fogelberg countdown selection is a melodious song about various aspects of horse racing.  “Run For the Roses” is from “The Innocent Age” album and is now considered as an unofficial theme song for the Kentucky Derby, which happens the first Saturday of May each year.

3.    Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around—Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #3 Hot 100: 59th Biggest Song of 1981

The coming together of Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty provided musical magic with their rock duet. From the debut Nicks “Bella Donna” solo album, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was actually the 25th video played on MTV’s first day of operation, August 1, 1981.

2.    Our Lips Are Sealed—The Go-Gos

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #20 Hot 100: 63rd Biggest Song of 1982

  Debut single for 2021 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band.  Rolling Stone ranks 57th greatest pop song of all time.  From the Go-Gos “Beauty and the Beat” album. “Our Lips Our Sealed” is my second favorite power pop rock single of the 80s.

1.    Every Little Thing She Does is Magic—The Police

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #3 Hot 100: 79th Biggest Song of 1982

 My top selection was written by the Police front man/bassist Sting in 1976 but wasn’t recorded until 1981 for the “Ghost in the Machine” album.  The song is unique among Police music as the tune features Jean Alain Roussel on piano and synthesizer. Andy Summers, Stewart Copeland and Sting blend together a perfect pop song, that is truly magic for me.  “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” is my pick for best song and video aired by MTV during the first year in business.

Now that I have my countdown of favorite first-year MTV songs and video that were hits on Top 40 radio, I am curious to find out your thoughts on this topic.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with the critique of my favorite MTV videos and songs from 1981-1982.  Your top selections maybe be completely different than my choices.  There are no right or wrong answers, just various opinions about the music song videos MTV played during their first year in business.

“I Want My MTV” was the main promotional slogan from the music TV cable channel in the early 80s.  MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore but I still can enjoy watching video clips 24/7 via YouTube and or the Internet. 

I still have fond memories of MTV songs and videos from the first year:  1981-1982.  Rock on!

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Broadcasting, Music, Radio

Jack Fisher: Looking Back at Renowned Roanoke Radio Broadcaster

Jack Fisher in front of WROV station building during 1965. Photo courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

How many individuals in America can claim the following: Being a teen dancer on American Bandstand when the show was aired from Philadelphia, and years later as a DJ, meeting the Beatles backstage at the band’s first American concert in Washington D.C. during February 1964?  The only person that I know who fits this bill is Jack Fisher.

So just who is Jack Fisher?  Born in Wilmington, Fisher is most prominently known as a premier DJ with WROV 1240 AM Roanoke, Virginia during the golden days of Top 40 radio. I consider the legendary WROV announcer to be among the “Mount Rushmore” of radio personalities who worked in the Roanoke radio market during the 60s and 70s.

I first met Fisher almost 46 years ago when I worked for WROV during 1975.  I reconnected with him earlier this month and interviewed Fisher via phone from his current home of Spartanburg, South Carolina. 

Fisher was born in Wilmington, Delaware and was involved with a variety of athletic sporting activities during high school.  He also loved listening to rock ‘n’ roll, dancing and attending concerts.  His first taste of glory came during Fisher’s teen years at a TV show called Bandstand in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

During the early 1950s, WFIL TV in Philadelphia broadcasted a live daily program called Bandstand. During 1956, Dick Clark became permanent host of the program and in 1957, ABC picked up the show for its television network. Clark’s show was renamed American Bandstand with ABC’s distribution of the program for a national audience.

Within the first year of ABC’s takeover of American Bandstand, the show had a national teen dance contest.  Fisher was a regular dancer on Clark’s TV show, and he entered the dance competition with a partner. The couple placed 4th place in the national dancing event.

Dick Clark and Jack Fisher on American Bandstand set 1957. Photo courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

The radio career of Jack Fisher started in the early 1960s at a small station in Georgetown, Delaware. Next up, Fisher moved to Portsmouth, Ohio and honed his skills at a bigger radio station. In late 1963, Fisher landed a major market job at Top 40 WEAM 1390 AM Washington, D.C.

On February 11, 1964, the Beatles performed their first American concert at the Washington Coliseum. Each of four DC Top 40 radio stations sent one of their DJs to emcee this debut Beatles show. With Fisher being the newest DJ hired at WEAM, he was “stuck” being the station’s representative for this historic concert event.

WEAM DJ Jack Fisher got to meet the Beatles backstage prior to this legendary first American concert. Fisher told me during our phone conversation that John, Paul, George and Ringo were all respectful to him.  The Fab Four were also friendly to the other Washington DJs and media members before they embarked on stage for their DC show.

Obviously, meeting the Beatles was the most memorable event of Fisher’s employment in the DC radio market.  Less than a year after starting at WEAM, Fisher was let go by the station.  While searching for DJ jobs in major markets, it was actually in Roanoke, Virginia where Fisher finally found a permanent home for his radio career. In November 1964, Fisher was hired at work at WROV 1240 AM.

WROV 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.

Starting on the 7 pm to midnight DJ shift, Fisher quickly became one of WROV’s most beloved on-air personalities.  Early in 1965, Fisher moved to the afternoon slot (2pm to 7pm) and he continued in that capacity for the next seven years.

Jack Fisher during early days at WROV (Mid 60s). Courtesy WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

One of the first bits that Fisher created after coming to WROV was a big promotional campaign to have the Beatles perform a concert in Roanoke.  According to the WROV History online website, “Fisher embarked on a campaign to bring the Beatles to Roanoke. Though several local businessmen were eager to sponsor the event, it never came to be. But, the attempt gained Jack much notoriety in the market.”

Below is a WROV aircheck of Fisher making a phone call on air to try and speak to George Harrison of the Beatles. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

For a short time period in 1966, Fisher was paired with another popular WROV DJ Fred Frelantz and the two announcers shared co-hosting duties with an afternoon show. The “Fisher & Frelantz Fling” team were a dynamic duo: complimenting each other well, writing humorous skits and creating memorable parodies on their daily radio show.

Fred Frelantz at WROV Studio. Photo courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

From the WROV History website and Pat Garrett: below is a Jack Fisher/Fred Frelantz aircheck of the fictitious beautiful downtown Bonsack Christmas parade. Fisher and Frelantz are the emcees for this “event.”

The Fisher/Frelantz duo were also heavily involved within the Roanoke community representing WROV at numerous events. Between the two of them, they emceed nearly every music concert that was held in the Roanoke Valley during the mid to late 60s.

WROV sponsored concerts were normally held at one of two locations during Fisher’s first years employed by the station: Victory Stadium or the Salem Civic Center.  During our phone conversation, Jack shared with me the most notable shows that he emceed were Paul Revere and the Raiders, James Brown, the Temptations, the Beach Boys, Wilson Pickett, Glen Campbell and Herman’s Hermits.

When Glen Campbell came to Roanoke, Jack Fisher met the singer. From left: Tommy Holcomb, Rita Matthews, Glen Campbell, Nancy Holcomb Fisher and Jack Fisher. Photo courtesy of Tommy Holcomb.

I found it interesting that when Herman’s Hermits first came to Roanoke for a concert, Fisher formed a bond with the band’s lead singer Peter Noone.  Fisher and Noone stuck up a friendship and they continue to communicate with one another on a regular basis, 56 years after their first meeting in Roanoke.

The most memorable WROV event that Fisher participated in came during the summer of 1969. June is National Dairy Month and Fisher had lunch with a cow in the parking lot of Crossroads Mall in Roanoke.

Pat Garrett from the WROV History Online Website, describes Fisher’s event: “Jack arrived in a limousine decked out with a tuxedo, for his lunch with the cow. Jack remembers “A large long table was set up with the cow on one end and me on the other, the cow ate hay, I of course dined only on dairy products. Several thousand people attended this event.”

Jack Fisher having lunch with a cow, Crossroads Mall Roanoke in June 1969. Photo Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

For almost 7 years, Jack Fisher was a prominent radio voice with WROV.  By 1971, Fisher decided to switch careers.  He left WROV to work for Brand Edmonds advertising agency.  Even though Fisher no longer was employed by WROV, he left the station on good term.

Since Fisher was still in good graces with WROV station owner Burt Levine, he was asked occasionally to work some part time weekend gigs with WROV throughout the mid to late 70s. It was during one of these temporary gig jobs with WROV, that I first met Jack Fisher.

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.

On Labor Day 1975, I was the engineer for a remote at Lowe’s and the DJ assigned to work with me was Fisher.  It was a “solid gold holiday weekend” and I played all 50’s and early 60’s songs that day.  I grew up listening to Fisher on WROV when I was younger, so it was a thrill being able to work with the legendary Roanoke DJ at that remote broadcast.

Dave Woodson working WROV remote broadcast at Discount Records Tanglewood Mall Roanoke in 1974.

Into the 80s, Fisher continued to be associated with WROV with various assignments. By this time, ratings for the once dominant Roanoke Top 40 station had fallen and WROV owner Burt Levine hired two of his former DJs for help:  Jack Fisher and Fred Frelantz.

Starting in March 1981, the dynamic duo of Fisher and Frelantz were back on the air at WROV:  Hosting an “oldies” show once a month on Saturday afternoons. Fisher would begin the broadcast at 12 noon, and then Frelantz would join his DJ partner at 2 pm to close out the 6-hour show.

When Frelantz moved out of Roanoke in 1982, Fisher assumed hosting the once-a-month oldies show by himself.  Three years later, Frelantz moved back to Roanoke and the “Fisher/Frelantz Fling” was back as a two-man-operation.

Aircheck of Jack Fisher & Fred Frelantz oldies show on WROV Roanoke during the 80s. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Unfortunately, the Fisher/Frelantz DJ partnership ended in June 1986, when Fred Frelantz died in an apartment fire.  After this tragic death, Fisher once again hosted the oldies show as a solo DJ.

The WROV oldies show was continued by Fisher until he signed off for the last time on October 26, 1991.  Below is an aircheck of Fisher’s final words on his oldies show.  The clip is courtesy of the WROV History Online Website/Pat Garrett.

Once Fisher’s radio days had ended, he became involved in a project about American Bandstand.  As the executive producer of the 1997 PBS TV documentary called “Bandstand Days”, Fisher utilized his knowledge about the dancers featured on Dick Clark’s TV show.

Nominated for an Emmy, Bandstand Days explores the origins, history and memorable experiences of dancers who performed during the Philadelphia days of American Bandstand. The documentary has footage of the TV show from 1957 and interviews some of the dancers from that era of the teen music program.

Photo from Bandstand Days PBS Documentary produced by Jack Fisher.

Jack Fisher has not slowed down during his retirement years.  In 2016, Fisher co-wrote a book with Susan A. Sistare called “Blue Skies and Green Lights.”   Fisher’s fictional account is billed as “a tale of music and magic of the 50s and 60s” and is loosely based on his real-life experiences with American Bandstand, the Beatles and radio stories about WROV Roanoke.

If you are looking for a light, easy and good read, I would recommend Fisher’s book. I enjoyed reading “Blue Skies and Green Lights” during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.   It is available for purchased through Amazon.

One other activity that Fisher has been involved with since 2015 is teaching a class at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.  As part of the Furman adult continuing education program, Fisher’s, “Music and Culture of the 60s” class explores how music and culture are tied together during the 60s decade.  If I lived anywhere near South Carolina, I would love to take Jack’s course.

Jack Fisher (left) working a WROV remote broadcast at Sunoco gas station on Franklin Road Roanoke. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

As I mentioned above, I spoke with Jack Fisher during a phone conversation earlier this month. After my interview with Fisher, I emailed the former DJ a list of six questions about important aspects of career and life experience highlights. Fisher’s responses to my questions are found below:

DJ Dave: What is your most memorable encounter with Dick Clark and your days as a dancer on American Bandstand as a teen?

Jack:   “Bandstand was local TV show in Philadelphia from 1952 until it went national on ABC-TV in 1957, becoming American Bandstand.  Dick Clark staged a jitterbug contest that was designed as a way to test the national TV audience response. There were many at ABC who thought a bunch of kids dancing on TV for two hours every afternoon would not work.

On the first day with in studio judges, my partner Dottie Horner and I won. There were 10 couples in a dance off over several weeks. Millions of votes by postcard came in proving that American Bandstand was a hit. Despite getting over a million votes, Dottie and I came in fourth.”

DJ Dave: Please describe what it was like meeting the Beatles backstage at their first American concert in Washington D.C. on February 11, 1964?

Jack: “The Beatles did their famous appearance on the Sullivan Show, Sunday February 9th, 1964. Two days later, the band performed their first live American show in Washington DC. I was doing 7 to midnight DJ shift on WEAM AM, the only 24-hour rocker in Washington. I along with 3 other jocks with other D.C. stations were invited to be at the concert.

They gave each of us Beatle Wigs and we stood at corners on the stage with the Beatles prior to the show. Backstage before the show we had access to the Beatles. Jack Alex from WEEL and I were talking to John Lennon, who said to us “we hope we can get two years out of this.” Knowing the fickle nature of the music business we replied “we hope so, it’s a tough business.”

DJ Dave:  Working with fellow WROV Roanoke DJ Fred Frelantz must have been special?  What made your broadcasting partnership flourish over the course of 20 plus years, until the untimely death of Frelantz in 1986?

Jack:  “On the Fisher and Frelantz DJ partnership:  This was a perfect pairing of two radio personalities. We instinctively were on the same page and we both were writers who created memorable bits. Just like the “Bonsack Christmas parade” segment we broadcasted together and is still talked about to this very day. Fred and I were just a great pairing. My friend and partner passed away in a fire during 1986. He was the best!”

Fred Frelantz and Jack Fisher during the 60s. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

 DJ Dave: During the summer of 1969, you were part of a legendary DJ staff at WROV, working with Bart Prater, Fred Frelantz and John Cigna.  Before leaving the station in 1971, you also worked with Larry Bly and Dan Alexander.  How did a small station like WROV attract and keep legendary DJ talent during the golden age of Top 40 radio?

Jack: “1969 was a memorable year of course for music and news, men landed on the moon and of course there was Woodstock. The lineup that year at WROV was as good of a DJ staff that was ever assembled for the Roanoke radio market.

John Cigna, who came from 50k watt WOWO Fort Wayne, Indiana, held down morning drive. Fred Frelantz was doing mid days, I worked afternoon drive and Bart Prater had the 7 to midnight shift. Come on man, that was entertainment. Why did so many talented DJs like this lineup and later jocks like Larry Bly and Dan Alexander work at WROV? It was Burt Levine, the owner of the station. Burt spotted talent and let it happen.”

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

DJ Dave:   What are two or three events, concerts or remote broadcasts that you participated in while working at WROV, that still are enduring or meaningful to you in 2021?

Jack:  “During my full-time employment with WROV, I worked at most every event that was sponsored by the station. I had a great time with Beach Boys, Wilson Pickett, and let’s not forget the bomb with Tiny Tim!  One of my favorites was the Temptations. After I introduced the Motown vocal group, bass singer Melvin Franklin took my microphone and thanked me for playing “My Girl” at the end of my WROV oldies show every week.  That was special.”

Jack Fisher with singer Bobby Darin in 1959 (Prior to Fisher coming to Roanoke). Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

DJ Dave: Can you tell me about the class that you have been teaching since 2015 at Furman University about the history of rock and roll?

Jack: “Currently I teach a class at Furman’s Life Long Learning class. THE MUSIC AND CULTURE OF THE 60S. During class time, I focus on a different year, discussing the music and major events that happened during that particular year. Each class demonstrates how music and culture influenced each other during the 60s decade.”

Jack Fisher at a WROV staff reunion event during the 00s. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

As I have chronicled highlights of Fisher and his important life events, it is clear he has woven a wonderful tapestry of living experiences within the rock and roll genre of music. Fisher’s stories of American Bandstand and the Beatles, as well as eventful radio DJ years with WROV Roanoke are fascinating, interesting and legendary.

Listening to WROV and Jack Fisher every afternoon when I was a teen still has a special place in my heart.  I cherish and fondly remember Fisher as an excellent DJ during the golden age of Top 40 radio. Without a doubt, Jack Fisher remains a legacy within Roanoke radio history here in the 21st Century. Rock on!

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

Best Sunshine Pop Singles of the 60s

Photo above by Julianne Woodson

What do artists like the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, the Association, the Turtles and the 5th Dimension all have in common?  Each of these Southern California groups were hit makers during the mid to late 60s, with a refreshing brand of music called Sunshine Pop.

With my latest edition of DJ Dave’s Musical Musings, I will be counting down what I consider to be the best Sunshine Pop Top 40 singles from the 60s decade. My selections were all hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, during the golden age of Sunshine Pop (1965-1969).

What is Sunshine Pop?  Wikipedia describes the type of rock music as, “cheerful, upbeat music which is characterized by warm sounds, prominent vocal harmonies, lush vocals, light arrangements and sophisticated productions. Rooted in easy listening and advertising jingles, sunshine pop acts combined nostalgic or anxious moods with an appreciation for the beauty of the world.”

Originating in California during the mid 60s, Sunshine Pop combined segments of folk-rock, soft pop, progressive rock, Baroque pop and Psychedelia.  Some tunes in this category are slow grooves, but most songs featured breezy, up-tempo beats.

The term Sunshine Pop did not exist during the 60s so it is difficult to pin-point an exact beginning to this sub-genre of pop rock music.  It appears that Sunshine Pop happened because of multiple musical influences as a wide range of musicians and record producers converged together around Los Angeles, California, during 1965 and 1966.

My dog Penny Lane and I with a vinyl copy of “Pet Sounds” album by the Beach Boys. The album was a Father’s Day gift to me in 2016, on the 50th anniversary of “Pet Sounds” LP release.

Some of the more instrumental players in the development of Sunshine Pop include:

  • The Beatles and “Beatlemania” permeates America in 1964
  • British Invasion bands other than the Beatles (1964-1965)
  • Folk rock bands like the Byrds/Roger McGuinn
  • Phil Spector Wall of Sound record producer
  • John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas
  • Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys
  • Pet Sounds album by the Beach Boys
  • Curt Boettcher Record Producer
  • The Wrecking Crew: Los Angeles session musicians

The Beatles are the most influential band of the rock era and they changed the course of musical history during the 60s.  The band’s impact on all types of pop/rock music is legendary and their musical fingerprints are all over what now is called Sunshine Pop. “Good Day Sunshine” from the Beatles “Revolver” album is noteworthy for being influential with the California pop/rock sounds coming out of Los Angeles during this time period.

Obviously, the Beatles are not considered a Sunshine Pop band.  However, the Fab Four did record similar types of songs during their career.  Two examples that come to my mind are George Harrison’s, “Here Comes the Sun” from the Abbey Road album and the 1967 Baroque Pop masterpiece from Paul McCartney, “Penny Lane.”

One other major influence of Sunshine Pop is the Brian Wilson produced album, “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys.  Rolling Stone magazine ranks Wilson’s 1966 project as the number one, “greatest rock album of all time.” The album incorporates rock, pop, and jazz with vocal harmonies and is considered a template for the genre of Progressive Rock.  “God Only Knows” is a gem from the superb album.

The peak for the first wave of Sunshine Pop happened during the “Summer of Love” in 1967.  Young people flocked by the thousands to the San Francisco, California neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury, searching for peace, love and tranquility. Music played a huge part of this cultural revolution. 

During the spring of 1967, John Phillips wrote and produced a song called, “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” that his friend Scott McKenzie recorded as a single. The song immediately became a Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and was an inspiration for those creating Sunshine Pop music in the 60s.

While I was researching information for this topic, I found that there were 12 core bands or groups that are associated with Sunshine Pop of the 60s decade:

  • The Association
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Buckinghams
  • The Cowsills
  • Gary Lewis & the Playboys
  • Harpers Bizarre
  • The Mamas & the Papas
  • The Monkees
  • Spanky and Our Gang
  • Strawberry Alarm Clock
  • The Turtles
  • The Rascals
The back cover of “Pet Sounds” album by the Beach Boys. This photo of my vinyl record, was a 2016 Father’s Day gift to me, by my daughters Amy, Stephanie and Julianne.

Of the 12 artists listed above, many of them recorded more than just Sunshine Pop songs.  There is much musical diversity among these top pop/rock performers.

There are also 6 lesser-known Sunshine Pop bands and groups from this time period.  These artists tended to have regional hits and didn’t chart high enough on Billboard or Cash Box music charts to become major hits on Top 40 radio during the 60s.

  • The Peppermint Rainbow
  • Yellow Balloon
  • The Sunshine Company
  • The Parade
  • Sagittarius
  • The Cherry People

There are also two other artists and songs that I want to highlight, which are actually Baroque Pop but sound similar to 60s Sunshine Pop:

  • Pretty Ballerina—The Left Banke
  • 98.6—Keith featuring the Tokens

Before starting the countdown of my 25 best Sunshine Pop singles of the 60s, I want to share information on how I determined my top songs in this category.

With this article about Sunshine Pop, I am including only American artists who had major hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart between 1965 and 1969. Every song on my countdown peaked at least at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Eleven tunes peaked at number one.

As I surveyed all the top 40 Sunshine Pop hits from the 60s, I found 25 high quality singles that are on my countdown. These are songs that I deem to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.

Photo of my vinyl copy of “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys.

I submit to you, my top 25 best Sunshine Pop singles.  As Casey Kasem used to say on his weekly American Top 40 show: “Now on with the countdown.”

25. Sunday Will Never Be the Same—Spanky & Our Gang

Peaked at #9 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Debut single by band. Lead vocals by Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane.  First of two songs on Top 25 countdown.

24. I Saw Her Again—The Mamas & the Papas

Peaked at # 5 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

Song co-written John Phillips and Denny Doherty. Third consecutive Top 5 hit for the group. It is the first of three songs on the countdown.

23.  Grazing in the Grass—The Friends of Distinction

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100: 1969

Vocal remake of South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela’s 1968 instrumental hit. Harry Elston of the group wrote lyrics for the song that repeatedly ask, “Can you dig it?”

22.  Green Grass—Gary Lewis & the Playboys

Peaked at #8 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

Gary Lewis is son of actor/comedian Jerry Lewis. Song was the last of the band’s seven consecutive Top 10 hits.

21.  Good Morning Starshine—Oliver

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100: 1969

Oliver covered a song from the Broadway rock musical “Hair.”  It was the first of two Top 3 hits in 1969 for the singer.

20.  Kind of a Drag—The Buckinghams

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Band from Chicago, Illinois. Song was first of 3 consecutive top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1967.

19.  Up–Up & Away—The 5th Dimension

Peaked at #7 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Written by Jimmy Webb. First Top 10 hit by the vocal quartet. Won 6 Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

18.  Windy—The Association

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

First of 3 Association songs on countdown. Second number 1 song for the group. 4th biggest record of 1967.

17.  Monday Monday—The Mamas & the Papas

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

Only number 1 song for the vocalists. First song to top the Billboard Hot 100 by a mixed gender group. Second of three songs on the countdown.

16.   Good Vibrations—The Beach Boys

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

First of two Beach Boys songs on countdown. Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Is the 6th biggest song on the Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Songs of all Time” list.

15.  The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)—Harpers Bizarre

Peaked at #13 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Written by Paul Simon. Harpers Bizarre band from Santa Cruz, California. Song was the biggest hit for the group.

14.  Lazy Day—Spanky & Our Gang

Peaked at #14 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Third single from debut “Spanky and Our Gang” album. Group performed song on the Ed Sullivan Show. Second song in the countdown.

13.  Incense & Peppermint—Strawberry Alarm Clock

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Los Angeles, California band. Highest charting single for group. 23rd biggest record for 1967.

12.  Groovin’—The Young Rascals

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

First number 1 hit for New Jersey formed band. Song is in both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll.”  

11.  Cherish—The Association

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

Second of 3 Association songs on countdown. First number 1 song for vocal group. Second biggest record of 1966.

10.  Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In—The 5th Dimension

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1969

A medley of two songs from the Broadway rock musical “Hair.” Second biggest record of 1969. Ranked number 66 on Billboard’s “Greatest Songs of all time” chart.

9.   Summer in the City—Lovin’ Spoonful

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

First of two songs on the countdown. Only number 1 record for band. 11th biggest song of 1966. Ranked at 401 on Rolling Stones’ “500 Greatest Songs of all Time” listing.

8.  Happy Together—The Turtles

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Only number 1 hit for the band. Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan formed a duo called “Flo and Eddie” after breakup of the Turtles. Song is in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

7.  Daydream Believer—The Monkees

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Song written by John Stewart. Last number 1 hit by the band. Davy Jones of the group sings lead vocals on the track.

6.  The Rain, The Park & Other Things—The Cowsills

Peaked at #2 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Debut smash for Newport, Rhode Island family band. Sold 3 million records. Ties the song “Hair” as the Cowsills’ two biggest hits.

5.  Never My Love—The Association

Peaked at #2 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

Third Association song on countdown. Popular wedding song over the past 54 years. Second most played song on radio and TV during the 20th century according to BMI.

4.   A Beautiful Morning—The Rascals

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100: 1968

Second song on the countdown. 3rd biggest song for the band. Came in at number 35 on the Billboard Top 100 records for 1968.

3. California Dreamin’—The Mamas & the Papas

Peaked at #4 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

Rolling Stone ranks single at number 89 on their “500 Greatest Songs of all Time” listing. Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame during 2001. “California Dreamin’” is the signature song for the Mamas and the Papas.

2.  Do You Believe in Magic—The Lovin’ Spoonful

Peaked at #9 Billboard Hot 100: 1965

Written by band member John Sabastian. Second selection on countdown.  Rolling Stone ranks song at 216 on their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” chart.  “Do You Believe in Magic” was the first of 7 consecutive top ten hits for the Lovin’ Spoonful from 1965 through 1967.

1.  Wouldn’t It Be Nice—The Beach Boys

Peaked at #8 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

One of the greatest doubled-sided 45 rpm singles of all time. B-side “God Only Knows.” Brian Wilson’s masterpiece uses the “Wall of Sound” production technique and 18 different instruments played on the track.  The song is considered ground-breaking and influential for future sub-genres of rock music: Power pop and progressive pop.

Pitchfork ranks Wilson’s gem at number 7 on their “200 Best Songs of the 1960s” listing.  Without any doubt, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is my number 1 best Sunshine Pop song of the 60s.

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on the best Sunshine Pop singles from the 60s, 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 Sunshine Pop. The songs that you might feel are the best, may be completely different from my selections.

I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the best Sunshine Pop singles of the 60s decade? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.

Album cover of Chartbusters USA Special Edition: Sunshine Pop

Listening to Sunshine Pop from the golden age of Top 40 radio will always have a special place in my heart.  I cherish and fondly remember all of the wonderful Sunshine Pop songs from my youth.  Rock on!

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Album Review, Artist Profiles, Music, Virginia Artists

Come Home: Album from Bent Mountain: Encouraging Bluegrass Music

The CD cover of Come Home by Bent Mountain. **All photos on this music blog message were provided courtesy of Quigg Lawrence.

In my home state of Virginia, many bluegrass song lyrics are written about topics pertinent to living life in the valleys and mountains of Appalachia.  Besides the universal subject of love, many Virginian bluegrass songs mention hard living, working the land, feeding families with wages below poverty or permanently loosing coal mining jobs.

In contrast to the lyrical content of most traditional bluegrass created within the Appalachian region of Virginia, others are producing music that is full of hope and encouragement. One such project is an album called “Come Home” by Bent Mountain.

The overall message with this new Roanoke, Virginia bluegrass compilation, can be found on the album’s front CD cover, referencing Matthew 11:28 from the New Testament of the Bible: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” 

The spiritual aspect of this project comes as no surprise, as the genesis for this new 10-track bluegrass music album comes from Dr. Quigg Lawrence, who is senior pastor at Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican parish in Roanoke, Virginia. Lawrence has ministered with his Roanoke congregation for 32 years.

Bishop Quigg Lawrence

In addition to his pastoral duties with Church of the Holy Spirit, Lawrence also serves as a Bishop for the Diocese of Christ Our Hope, which is part of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). Lawrence was consecrated Bishop in February 2013.

My family and I have been members with Church of the Holy Spirit (COTHS) since 2002, so I have shared many experiences with Pastor Lawrence over the past 19 years. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Lawrence about his new bluegrass album project.

During the beginning of my first interview with Bishop Lawrence, I asked two main questions:

1. Why was the name Bent Mountain selected?

2. What is the purpose and goal for recording the album?

Scott Mulvahill and Eric Imhof at Church of the Holy Spirit Roanoke during Bent Mountain recording session.

Bishop Quigg replied, “Bent Mountain is not the name of a band but is a collaboration of musical talent by my friends. Those friends include folks from Church of the Holy Spirit, plus musicians from Roanoke, Southwestern Virginia and even Nashville, Tennessee.”

Answering my second question, Lawrence stated the purpose and goal of the album: “It is a bluegrass style offering, created during Covid and a time while I was watching my mom battle cancer and go home to Jesus.

Lawrence continued, “The common theme with the 10 tracks on “Come Home” is death, resurrection and the “life of the world to come.” It is an invitation to come and experience the peace, rest and joy of the Lord”

The Inspiration behind “Come Home.” Quigg Lawrence TV Interview with Lindsey Ward WSLS Channel 10 Roanoke.  Daytime Blue Ridge show. May 24, 2021.

Bluegrass music has always been a passion for Bishop Lawrence.  His fondness for acoustic stringed instrumental music, formulated during his high school years in Richmond, Virginia.

While growing up, Lawrence loved listening to bluegrass records on his parent’s stereo system.  He also showed fondness of watching his father, Quigg Lawrence Senior play bluegrass music.

Lawrence’s dad owned Alpha Audio recording studio in Richmond where albums from many genres of music were recorded.  Quigg Senior also played in his own bluegrass band called BlueRidge.

Photo of Quigg Lawrence Senior and his band BlueRidge during 1982.

Over the years, Lawrence’s father would often have jam sessions and play with other talented bluegrass musicians. Included in the mix of talented performers that Quigg Senior played with are Ben Eldridge, Bill Clifton, Ralph Stanley and the Country Gentleman.

As a side note, Quigg Lawrence Senior once owned a 1954 Martin D-28 guitar back when he played bluegrass music.  The guitar is said to be “one of the best on the planet” according to Bishop Lawrence. Photo below is of the vintage 1954 Martin D-28 guitar.

Just before Quigg Lawrence Senior passed away, he sold his guitar to an unidentified buyer. Eventually, this famous guitar ended up being owned by Chris Eldridge, who is a guitarist and member of Punch Brothers band. Ironically, Eldridge is one of the musicians who performed on the “Come Home” album and he actually played the celebrated 1954 Martin D-28 guitar on many of the album’s tracks.

Chris Eldridge playing the 1954 Martin D-28 guitar during Bent Mountain recording sessions, that had once been owned by Quigg Lawrence Senior, father of Bishop Lawrence.

After graduation from high school, Lawrence attended the University of Virginia for two years and then earned a degree in emergency medicine from Central Washington University.

It was during this time period that Lawrence found his main pathway for living: Becoming a Christian and following Jesus.

 During the summer of 1980, a surfer friend of Lawrence gave him the book, “Basic Christianity” by John Stott.  By reading Stott’s book, Lawrence started understanding things in the Bible and began his journey as a Christian.

Obviously, proclamation of the gospel is important for Bishop Quigg.  He shared with me about his unique album set, “It has been my dream for several years to record the wide breadth of styles of music COTHS uses.  We regularly use banjo, mandolin and cello alongside electric guitars, keyboard, and bass.”

Julie Wright and Scott Mulvahill at Bent Mountain recording session: Church of the Holy Spirit Roanoke.

Two years ago, the COTHS worship team recorded an EP which included 4 original songs (both contemporary and traditional worship in style) and one cover tune. The brand-new Bent Mountain collaboration features a pleasing mixture of bluegrass and Americana genres of music.

Scott Mulvahill singing backup vocals for Bent Mountain album. Church of the Holy Spirit Roanoke.

Producer for the “Come Home” album is Scott Mulvahill, with Quigg Lawrence as executive producer and Evan Sieling handling engineering duties.

Besides Bishop Lawrence, there are four members of his COTHS congregation that contributed to the “Come Home” project:

*Eric Imhof:  Son-in-law of Quigg Lawrence, Worship Arts Pastor/Stewardship Pastor for COTHS.

Eric Imhof, Scott Mulvahill and Julie Wright taking break during Bent Mountain recording session.

*Julie Wright:  Former Worship Arts Pastor at COTHS and a current member of the praise/worship team.

*Ayden Young and Blane Young: The Brothers Young are a sibling bluegrass duo. Ayden is 15 and plays banjo with the COTHS praise/worship team. Blane age 10, is a mandolin player. Last October, I featured the Brothers Young with one of my music blogs here on DJ Dave’s Musical Musings:

Blane and Ayden Young: The Brothers Young duo from Roanoke, Virginia.

The remaining personnel who are part of the Bent Mountain collaboration, are all excellent musicians and performers.  In fact, Bishop Lawrence brought together a world-class, all-star ensemble for his debut compilation.

*Annie Lawrence:   Singer-songwriter who lives Nashville and has recorded multiple albums. She is the daughter of Quigg Lawrence and grew up in Roanoke. Two years ago, I featured Annie Lawrence’s musical story on my music blog:

awrence.

Annie Lawrence performing at Church of the Holy Spirit. Roanoke, Virginia.

*Scott Mulvahiill:  Front man, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and world-renowned upright bassist.  Has played with Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby.  Now has a solo career. Mulvahill is producer of the Bent Mountain album.

Scott Mulvahill with upright bass during recording session for “Come Home” album.

*Junior Sisk:  Lead guitarist, vocalist and front man for the Junior Sisk Band.  Lives in Ferrum, Virginia. His past bands include Rambler’s Choice and BlueRidge.  Sisk has won numerous accolades including the 2013 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year award.

*Chris Eldridge:   Singer and guitarist.  Member of Punch Brothers: A hybrid bluegrass/classical/country/chamber band. In 2018, Punch Brothers won a Grammy for Best Folk Album with “All Ashore.”  Past member of the Infamous Stringdusters bluegrass band. His father is Ben Eldridge, founding member of the Seldom Scene.

*Justin Moses: Dobro maestro and multi-instrumentalist. Prominent Nashville session musician. Versatile musician in all forms of acoustic music. Named Dobro Player of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association. Married to singer-songwriter and mandolin player Sierra Hull since 2017.

Justin Moses playing a dobro guitar during Bent Mountain recording sessions.

*Sierra Hull: Virtuoso mandolinist, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.  Debut on Grand Ole Opry stage at age 10, played Carnegie Hall at 12 and had first recorded album at age 13. Married to Justin Moses. Performs and tours with husband as a duo.

*Russ Carson:   Superb banjo player.  Member of Ricky Skaggs’ band Kentucky Thunder. Started picking banjo at age 10. Bluegrass Today online considers Carson to be “among one of the top banjo players in the world.”

Russ Carson playing banjo at Bent Mountain recording session.

*Ryan Ogrodny:  Polka prodigy as a teen and plays the fiddle.  Nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Polka Album in 2004. Ogrodny is a violin/fiddle professor at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

* Doug Bartlett:  Fiddle specialist and multi-instrumentalist, formerly with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. Currently with Junior Sisk band. Received a couple of Grammy nominations in 1999 and 2000 for two separate bluegrass albums.

* Jonathan Dillon: Mandolin is main instrument with exceptional banjo skills.  Plays in the Junior Sisk band. At age 17, Dillon was nominated for “Mandolin Player – Performer of the Year” at the 2013 Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America Awards.

*Heather Mabe: Lead and harmony vocalist. Heather and her husband Tony are members of Junior Sisk Band.  Ms. Mabe is known for excellent harmonies, amazing tones and perfect pitch vocals.

Heather Mabe, Junior Sisk and others playing a bluegrass song.

There are a total of 10 tracks on the Bent Mountain album:

  1. Shoutin’ On the Hills of Glory (Featuring Quigg Lawrence)
  2. The Darkest Hour (Featuring Quigg Lawrence)
  3. Mother’s Only Sleeping (Featuring Eric Imhof)
  4. Little Birdie (Featuring Junior Sisk and the Brothers Young)
  5. Forever Ain’t No Trouble Now (Featuring Quigg Lawrence)
  6. Down the Road (Featuring Quigg Lawrence)
  7. You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive (Featuring Eric Imhof and Julie Wright)
  8. Eulogy for Dr. Ralph Stanley (Spoken by Ricky Skaggs)
  9. Come to Jesus (Featuring Annie Lawrence)
  10.  Softly and Tenderly (Featuring Julie Wright)

Four songs on the album feature vocals by Bishop Lawrence. Eric Imhof and Julie Wright sing on three tracks: Both artists have lead vocals with a single song and the pair also perform a duet together.  Rounding out the singing tracks from the Bent Mountain assemble are vocalists Annie Lawrence and Junior Sisk.  

The tenth selection is not musical but actually the spoken word:  It is a eulogy that country/bluegrass superstar Ricky Skaggs gave at the funeral for the legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley, the Southwestern Virginia pioneer of bluegrass and country music genres.

Audio for “Eulogy for Dr. Ralph Stanley” by Ricky Skaggs. From Bent Mountain album.

Inclusion of Stanley’s eulogy on a bluegrass album may seem odd to some. However, Bishop Quigg says of Skaggs’ oratory, “I have never heard a clearer explanation of the Gospel.”

In breaking down the musical tunes from the “Come Home” production, the Gospel message pervades throughout each selection, and proclamation of Christian themes is at the forefront on this project. The musicianship on the album is outstanding.

Since I had an advance copy of “Come Home” last month, I have listened to the album multiple times. Before I heard the four songs where Bishop Quigg performs lead vocals, I was curious how Lawrence would sound, since he is not trained as a singer.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear Lawrence’s ease of delivery, showing confidence with his phrasing and comfort within the bluegrass genre of music. Bishop Quigg sounds assured with his debut recordings.

Bishop Quigg striking a pose while recording a song for the Bent Mountain album.

Besides Lawrence’s four tracks, the remaining 5 musical tunes are strong and showcase excellence among the various artists. 

  • You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive:  Duet vocals by Eric Imhof and Julie Wright.  Cover of folk song written by Darrell Scott. The duo harmonize superbly and perform the album’s most melodic tune. Additional backup vocals are provided by Scott Mulvahill.
  • Come to Jesus: Annie Lawrence vocals.  Mindy Smith’s written song was a hit on multiple formatted radio stations in 2004.  Annie’s rendition is compelling and expressive. One of Lawrence’s best vocal performances during her recording career.
  • Little Birdie: Junior Sisk vocals.  Traditional bluegrass song. Most famous cover is by Dr. Ralph Stanley. The Brothers Young play on this tune performing their first recorded song. Sisk’s strong vocals are prominent on this selection.
  • Mother’s Only Sleeping:  Eric Imhof vocals.  Written by Bill Monroe in 1946. Song has been covered by the Stanley Brothers and many other bands. Imhof is effective with his engaging vocals on this traditional bluegrass tune.
  • Softly and Tenderly: Julie Wright vocals.  A Christian hymn composed and written by Will L. Thompson in 1880. The last song on the album features Wright singing a cappella and is absolutely transcendent. This outstanding vocal performance is the crown jewel on the “Come Home” album.

The new Bent Mountain album is now available on all major streaming platforms and can be purchased online at Amazon and Apple itunes.

I highly recommend the “Come Home” Bent Mountain compilation set.  Musically, it is top-notch, with nationally acclaimed instrumental performers.  One would be hard pressed to find a similar grouping of world-class musicians together, on any other music album collection.

The message of “Come Home” encompasses many different attributes:  It is calling, challenging and questioning, but also is hopeful and encouraging.  

Without a doubt, the essential theme for the Bent Mountain album is found within the “Softly and Tenderly” chorus, the traditional hymn that closes this superb album: “Come home, come home, you who are weary come home.”

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Broadcasting, Music, Podcasts, Radio, Retro Rock

Two Larry’s and a Mic: Radio DJs Podcasting for New Audiences

Larry Bly and Larry Dowdy in studio for “Two Larry’s and a Mic” podcast. Photo courtesy of Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times.

When DJs retire from radio broadcasting, where do they go?  For Roanoke, Virginia DJs Larry Bly and Larry Dowdy, they have started recording a bi-monthly podcast called Two Larry’s and a Mic. 

Then on alternating weeks, Dowdy produces a separate solo podcast called Larry Dowdy Mic Side.

Over the course of the past 50 years, DJs Dowdy and Bly have been an important part of the Roanoke/Lynchburg radio market. With a wealth of radio broadcasting experiences, each new podcast installment creates unique perspectives by this duo.

I spoke with DJs Bly and Dowdy via phone on April 29, just before they recorded episode 18 of Two Larry’s and a Mic. Their latest podcast features songs that were popular 50 years ago during 1971, along with interesting information about the golden age of Top 40 radio.

The idea for podcasting came from Dowdy, as he retired from radio last summer after hosting WLNI Lynchburg’s Morning Line show for the past five years. You can listen to the final words that Dowdy spoke before retirement on the clip below, along with some conversation with WLNI Morning Line co-host Kenny Shelton.

Above: Aircheck of Larry Dowdy’s last minutes on WLNI 105.9 FM Lynchburg on 7/30/20. Courtesy of Larry Dowdy.

Just after his farewell at WLNI, Dowdy contacted his former mentor Larry Bly about the possibility of recording a podcast together.  The guys quickly formed a plan and the Two Larry’s and a Mic podcast became a reality.

 In addition, Larry Dowdy’s Mic Side podcast was also started during the same time period. Debut of Mic Side occurred August 20 while Two Larry’s and a Mic maiden voyage happened August 25.

My connection with both guys named Larry was with WROV 1240 AM Roanoke when we were all employed at the station during the mid 70s.

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.

Here I am at my first radio job. Sound engineer for WROV Roanoke during 1974.

During my first engineering remote assignment with WROV, I was fortunate to be paired up with Larry Bly. The morning drive DJ spoke words of encouragement, and made me feel comfortable during my first day working at the station.

It was also with WROV remote broadcasts where I first met Larry Dowdy, who was a part time employee like myself.  While I was preforming engineering duties for WROV remote broadcasts, Dowdy would run the main studio board back at the radio station.

Larry Bly and Wolfman Jack at the WROV Roanoke studio in April 1975. Photo courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

The career paths for Bly and Dowdy intersected just once, as they both worked together at WROV Roanoke. However, both guys share similarities with their celebrated broadcasting experiences. Both guys named Larry:

  •  Worked at one major market top 40 station outside of Virginia
  •  Were on TV during 80s and/or 90s
  •  Started radio careers at a young age

Larry Bly’s radio career flourished as a young man when he was an announcer for the Armed Forces Network in South Korea. Once Bly left the military, he took a radio job with WHBG Harrisonburg, which was located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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

Next in Bly’s radio career was a gig at WWWW (W4) FM Detroit, Michigan. Although W4 was a major market top 40 outlet, Bly wanted to get a job closer to his native home state of Virginia. With the help of his friend Dan Alexander, Bly was hired to work at WROV Roanoke during 1971.

When Bly moved to Roanoke, he didn’t realize it would become his permanent home.  After settling in at Top 40 WROV, Bly spent 3 years full time at the station, starting on the 7 pm to midnight shift and ending up doing the morning show for a couple of years.

Above: Larry Bly aircheck on WROV Roanoke during 1973. Courtesy of the WROV History website/Pat Garrett.

During 1974, Bly became a part time employee at WROV as he started working full time for an advertising agency called System 4. A business he co-owned with Marty Hall, who was a former WROV DJ himself during the 60s.

Even though Bly became a weekend employee for WROV, he continuously worked at the station for 37 years and ended his employment there in 1998. According to the WROV History website: “The last live announcer on WROV-AM was Larry Bly, who ended its final show by playing Don McLean’s hit “American Pie” (with lyrics “the day the music died”).”

Above: Larry Bly aircheck on WROV Roanoke during 1981. Courtesy of Larry Bly.

The other major activity that Bly was involved in during the 80s and 90s was a TV program called Cookin’ Cheap. Hosted by Laban Johnson and Bly for Blue Ridge Public Television in Roanoke, the program became a nationally syndicated cooking show.  

Larry Dowdy’s radio career began in 1973 while he was still in high school at combo WRIS AM/WJLM FM Roanoke. Dowdy moved across town the following year for another part time radio position with WROV.

After high school, Dowdy worked at Beautiful Music station WLRG Roanoke 92.3 FM.  At Midnight January 1st, 1980, WLRG switched call letters and music format, becoming Top 40 K92 (WXLK). Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers was the first song played at K92.

At K92, Dowdy was part of a phenomenal Top 40 outlet which became the number 1 most listened to radio station in the Roanoke/Lynchburg market for next 15 years.  Dowdy spent 3 different times employed at K92:  1980-1983, 1984-1992 and 1997-1999.

In 1983, Dowdy left K92 to land at job at Hot Hits WMAR Baltimore, working the midnight shift for his entire employment at that station. After a year working the overnight hours in Maryland, Dowdy came back to his Roanoke roots and once again played Top 40 hits on K92.

Photo of K92 Roanoke “K Crew” morning drive staff: Larry Dowdy, Mike Stevens & Bill Jordan. Dowdy provided his photo for this blog.

TV was next up for Dowdy, as he transferred his radio skills to a new platform: Early morning television. He spent 5 years with WDBJ7 as host for the station’s Mornin’ Program (1992-1997).

At the end of his employment with WDBJ7, Dowdy jumped back over to radio broadcasting and held down morning drive DJ positions with 4 stations from 1997 until 2015.  The first two stations Dowdy worked for after completing TV duties, were Mel Wheeler Media owned K92 and Star Country (94.9 FM) Roanoke.

Morning radio DJ jobs continued for Dowdy in the 2000s as he moved across town and worked for a couple of stations owned by Clear Channel Communications (Now known as iHeartCommunications). First up was Magic FM (104.9 FM) which featured adult contemporary music.

Above: Aircheck of Larry Dowdy & Cheryl Fender on Magic FM Roanoke during 2003. Courtesy of Larry Dowdy.

The longest time that Dowdy spent with one station happened with Sunny FM (93.5), where he spent 14 years as the morning show host.  Dowdy stayed at the classic hits formatted station until January 2015.

After Dowdy’s departure from Sunny FM, he hooked up with WLNI FM (105.9) Lynchburg. The final radio destination for Dowdy was different for the radio broadcaster: He was host for a news/talk program called Morning Line.  Dowdy completed 5 years at WLNI and his radio career was completed at the end of July 2020.

K92 Roanoke DJs Tripper and Larry Dowdy inside the K92 studio. Dowdy provided his photo for this blog.

In my communications with Larry Dowdy, I asked him to give me a brief description about the topic content of the two podcasts that he is producing. Below are his quotes:

  • Two Larry’s and a Mic: Features Larry Bly and Larry Dowdy discussing what made radio fun to listen to and the incredible music that made it memorable.

  • Larry Dowdy Mic Side:  Is a one-on-one interview with movers and shakers in the Roanoke area and other guests of interest from around the country to podcast listeners.

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 the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Dowdy also gave me a breakdown on the number of total installments that are now available to download with his two podcasts:

  • Two Larry’s and a Mic:  18
  • Larry Dowdy Mic Side:  22

The aspect that I like most about both podcasts:  A person doesn’t need to be a radio geek to enjoy listening to the duo on “Two Larry’s” or to appreciate Dowdy’s warm and inviting interviewing skills on “Mic Side.”

With any “Two Larry’s and a Mic” podcast, the fellows talk on a featured music topic, that is chock-full of information and is fun-filled with laughter between the duo. On any given segment, one may hear radio airchecks, snippets of Top 40 hits, in-depth musical history and radio tales by “Uncle Lar” Bly.   

Some of the wonderful subjects that Two Larry’s and a Mic have tackled since last August include:

  • One Hit Wonders
  • Great Duets
  • British Invasion
  • Elvis Presley
  • Canadian Invasion Music
  • Powerful Instrumentals on Top 40 Radio
  • 70s Music
  • Love Songs

On “Larry Dowdy Mic Side” podcasts, a single person is interviewed by the host.  The subject matter is wide open and much more than just discussions of radio or music topics.  I appreciate the variety of guests that Dowdy interviews on his solo podcast.

Interviews that I have most enjoyed on Larry Dowdy Mic Side:

  • David Lee Michaels
  • Nelson Harris
  • Bill Jordan
  • Dr. Bob Denton
  • Sammy Oakey
  • Brent Watts
  • Tommy Holcomb
  • Kenny Shelton

Larry Bly and Larry Dowdy in studio for “Two Larry’s and a Mic” podcast. Photo courtesy of Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times.

For anyone wanting new listening experiences with podcasting, I highly recommend adding both “Larry Dowdy Mic Side” and “Two Larry’s and a Mic” to your playlist. Here are the main links for these superbly produced podcasts:

I fondly remember the golden days of top 40 radio and I am glad that DJs Larry Bly and Larry Dowdy are bringing back musical memories from many years ago.  It is also heartening to know about Dowdy’s labor of love producing two excellent podcasts for the world to enjoy.

If you are searching for new podcasting suggestions, I strongly advocate adding “Larry Dowdy Mic Side” and “Two Larry’s and a Mic” to your regular listening playlist. The retired DJs from Roanoke will not disappoint.  Rock on! 

To subscribe to my blog via email, please click the “Follow” button in the menu above.

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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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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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