Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1975 Superior Singles & WROV Roanoke Memories

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

Old days, good times I remember

Fun days filled with simple pleasures

Take me back to a world gone away

Memories seem like yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two other highlights happened for me at WROV during 1975:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peaked at #9 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Low Rider—War

Peaked at #7 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Calypso—John Denver.

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

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

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

  1. Old Days—Chicago

Peaked at #5 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Pick Up the Pieces—Average White Band

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. I’m Not in Love—10cc

Peaked at #2 Billboard Hot 100

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

14. #9 Dream—John Lennon

Peaked at #9 Billboard Hot 100

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

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

Peaked at #5 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Sister Golden Hair—America

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Black Water—Doobie Brothers

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

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

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

  1. Shining Star—Earth Wind & Fire

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Jive Talkin’—Bee Gees

Peaked at #1  Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Junior’s Farm—Paul McCartney & Wings

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Fame—David Bowie

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Killer Queen—Queen

Peaked at #12 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Miracles—Jefferson Starship

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. You’re No Good—Linda Ronstadt

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. Free Bird—Lynyrd Skynyrd

Peaked at #19 Billboard Hot 100

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

  1. One of These Nights—Eagles

Peaked at #1. Billboard Hot 100

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

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

  1. Born to Run—Bruce Springsteen

Peaked at #17 Cash Box and #23 Billboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my mind and in my heart to stay

Darkened dreams of good times gone away

Days of love and feeling fancy free

Days of magic still so close to me

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1980 Top 40 Hits: Still Excellent 40 Years Later

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The River. Bruce Springsteen

Zenyatta Mondatta—The Police

Double Fantasy—John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Boy—U2

Glass Houses—Billy Joel

 

Back in Back—AC/DC

Remain in Light—Talking Heads

Hi Infidelity—RRO Speedwagon

The Game—Queen

Making Movies—Dire Straits

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

Other areas of transition for music during 1980:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Eagles had 3 songs in the Top 100:

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

Billy Joel

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

Christopher Cross

  • Ride Like the Wind
  • Sailing

Linda Ronstadt

  • How Do I Make You
  • Hurt So Bad

Fleetwood Mac

  • Sara
  • Tusk

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

 

The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn

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

 

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

 

Peaked at #6:  67th biggest song of 1980

 

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

  1. Breakdown Dead Ahead—Boz Scaggs

 

Peaked at #15:  97th biggest song of 1980

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

  1. You May Be Right—Billy Joel

 

Peaked at #7:  75th biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Biggest Part of Me—Ambrosia

 

Peaked at #3:  27th biggest song of 1980

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

  1. We Don’t Talk Anymore—Cliff Richard

 

Peaked at #7:  45th biggest song of 1980

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

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

 

Peaked at #10:  64th biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Cool Change—Little River Band

 

Peaked at #10:  56th biggest song of 1980

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

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

 

  1. This Is It—Kenny Loggins

 

Peaked at #11:  28th biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Heartbreaker—Pat Benatar

 

Peaked at #23:  83rd biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Ride Like the Wind—Christopher Cross

 

Peaked at #2:  17th biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Magic—Olivia Newton John

 

Peaked at #1:  3rd biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Babe—Styx

 

Peaked at #1:  20th biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Romeo’s Tune—Steve Forbert

 

Peaked at #11:  60th biggest song of 1980

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

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

 

Peaked at #1:  9th biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Cars—Gary Numan

 

Peaked at #9:  12th biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Refugee—Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

 

Peaked at #15:  100th biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Longer—Dan Fogelberg

 

Peaked at #2:  33rd biggest song of 1980

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

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

 

Peaked at #1:  2nd biggest song of 1980

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

  1. Call Me—Blondie

 

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

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

  1. Sailing—Christopher Cross

 

Peaked at #1:  32nd biggest songs of 1980

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the new sound

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

Rock on!

 

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

American Top 40: First Show Debut July 1970

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

40 Marvin Gaye – The End Of Our Road

39 Mark Lindsay – Silver Bird

38 Eric Burdon and War – Spill The Wine

37 Crabby Appleton – Go Back

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

35 Aretha Franklin – Spirit In The Dark

34 John Phillips – Mississippi

33 The Flaming Ember – Westbound #9

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

31 The 5th Dimension – Save The Country

30 Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young – Ohio

29 Ray Stevens – Everything Is Beautiful

28 The Impressions – Check Out Your Mind!

27 The Moody Blues – Question

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

25 Wilson Pickett– Sugar, Sugar

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

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

Oldie: Bill Cosby – Little Ole Man

22 The Moments – Love On A Two-Way Street

21 Mountain – Mississippi Queen

20 Bread – Make It With You

19 Pacific Gas and Electric – Are You Ready?

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

17 Alive ‘N Kickin’ – Tighter, Tighter

16 White Plains – My Baby Loves Lovin’

15 Miguel Rios – A Song Of Joy

Oldie: Louis Armstrong – Hello, Dolly!

14 Brotherhood Of Man – United We Stand

13 Rare Earth – Get Ready

12 The Five Stairsteps – O-o-h Child

11 The Pipkins – Gimme Dat Ding

10 Vanity Fair – Hitchin’ A Ride

Oldie: Blood, Sweat, and Tears – Spinning Wheel

09 Elvis Presley – The Wonder Of You

08 The Beatles – The Long And Winding Road

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

06 Melanie- Lay Down (Candles In The Rain)

05 Freda Payne – Band Of Gold

04 Blues Image – Ride Captain Ride

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

02 The Jackson 5 – The Love You Save

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

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

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

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

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

The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn

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

Now on with the countdown:

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

Peaked at #2:  26th biggest song of 1970

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

  1. Are You Ready—Pacific Gas and Light

Peaked at #14: 93rd biggest song of 1970

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

  1. Hitchin’ a Ride—Vanity Fare

Peaked at #5:  14th biggest song of 1970

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

  1. Teach Your Children—Crosby Stills Nash & Young

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

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

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

  1. Get Ready—Rare Earth

Peaked at #4:  8th biggest song of 1970

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

  1. Go Back—Crabby Appleton

Peaked at #36.     A one hit wonder

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

  1. Question—The Moody Blues

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

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

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

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

Peaked at #1     2nd biggest song of 1970

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

  1. Band of Gold—Freda Payne

Peaked at #3.     10th biggest song of 1970

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

  1. O-o-h Child—The Five Stairsteps

Peaked at #8.    21st biggest song of 1970

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

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

Peaked at #6.    23rd biggest song of 1970

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

  1. Make It With You—Bread

Peaked at #1.    13th biggest song of 1970

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

  1. Ohio—Crosby Stills Nash & Young

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

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

  1. Mississippi Queen—Mountain

Peaked at #21.  78th biggest song of 1970

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

  1. Tighter Tighter—Alive N Kickin’

Peaked at #7    47th biggest song of 1970

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

  1. The Long and Winding Road—The Beatles

Peaked at #1.    41st biggest song of 1970

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

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

Peaked at #3.   31st biggest song of 1970

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

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

Peaked at #3.   24th biggest song of 1970

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

  1. Ride Captain Ride—Blues Image

Peaked at #4.    32nd biggest song of 1970

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

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

Peaked at #1.   11th biggest song of 1970

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

Essential Pop Rock Songs of the 70’s

 

Raspberries-630-420

What is Power Pop Rock?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raspberries had four top 40 hits between 1972 and 1974:

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

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

Raspberries-Album-Cover-web-optimised-820

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  1. Pump It Up—Elvis Costello and the Attractions

From “This Year’s Model” album

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

 

  1. What I Like About You—The Romantics

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

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

 

  1. Surrender—Cheap Trick

From the “Heaven Tonight” album

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

 

  1. Cinnamon Girl—Neil Young and Crazy Horse

From the album “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”

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

 

  1. American Girl—Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers

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

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

 

  1. Just What I Needed—The Cars

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

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

 

  1. Cruel To Be Kind—Nick Lowe

From the “Labour of Lust” album

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

 

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

From the “Something/Anything?” album

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

 

  1. No Matter What—Badfinger

From the “No Dice” album

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

 

  1. Go All the Way—Raspberries

From the self-titled debut “Raspberries” album

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1970: Greatest Year For One Hit Wonders?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casey Kasem Host of American Top 40

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

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

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

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

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

1          “Bridge Over Troubled Water”               Simon & Garfunkel

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

3          “American Woman”                              The Guess Who

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

5          “War”                                                    Edwin Starr

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

7          “I’ll Be There”                                      The Jackson 5

8          “Get Ready”                                         Rare Earth

9          “Let It Be”                                            The Beatles

10       “Band of Gold”                                      Freda Payne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questionable lyric songs: Understood differently here in 2020

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

Songs with same lead singer: Tony Burrows

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

Spiritual Songs: Christian themed messages

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

Canadian Artists: Only Hit in America

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

Various Topical Songs: A potpourri of subject matters

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Venus—Shocking Blue

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

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

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

  1. All Right Now—Free

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

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

  1. House of the Rising Sun—Frijid Pink

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

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

  1. O-o-h Child—Five Stairsteps

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

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

  1. Mississippi Queen—Mountain

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

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

  1. Vehicle—The Ides of March

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

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

  1. Yellow River—Christie

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

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

  1. Tighter, Tighter—Alive N Kickin’

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

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

  1. Ride Captain Ride—Blues Image

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

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

  1. Spirit in the Sky—Norman Greenbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Music, Music Countdowns, Radio

What is the Greatest Christmas Song of All Time?

Oh, all the lights are shining so brightly everywhere

And the sound of children’s laughter fills the air

 

And everyone is singing

I hear those sleigh bells ringing

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

Won’t you please bring my baby to me?

 

Oh, I don’t want a lot for Christmas

This is all I’m asking for

I just wanna see my baby

Standing right outside my door

 

Oh, I just want you for my own

More than you could ever know

Make my wish come true

Baby, all I want for Christmas is you

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Novelty Songs

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

Top 40 Rock Songs

 

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

 

Middle of the Road Songs

 

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

Holiday Songs

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Come On Ring Those Bells—Evie

 

 

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

 

  1. Do You Hear What I Hear—Whitney Houston

 

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

 

  1. Silent Night—The Temptations

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

  1. O Holy Night—Martina McBride

 

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

 

 

  1. Merry Christmas Darling—The Carpenters

 

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

 

  1. The Christmas Song—Nat King Cole

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

  1. White Christmas—Bing Crosby

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

 

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

 

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the treetops glisten

And children listen

To hear sleigh bells in the snow

 

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

With every Christmas card I write

May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white

 

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the treetops glisten

And children listen

To hear sleigh bells in the snow

 

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

With every Christmas card I write

May your days be merry and bright

And may all your Christmases be white

 

 

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Artist Profiles, Music, Radio, Retro Rock

You Say: Lauren Daigle’s Surprise Crossover Hit

Once in a blue moon, there will be a Christian song to crossover and be a hit on secular radio in America. In 2019, that song is “You Say” from Lauren Daigle.

 

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough

Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up

Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?

Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know

 

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me

In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity, ooh

 

Taking all I have and now I’m laying it at your feet

You have every failure God, and You’ll have every victory, ooh

 

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing

You say I am strong when I think I am weak

You say I am held when I am falling short

When I don’t belong, oh You say I am Yours

And I believe, (I) oh I believe (I)

What You say of me (I)

I believe

 

“You Say” by Lauren Daigle is truly a surprise hit song. During the 21st century, it has been rare for a Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) song to crossover and become a secular hit on multiple secular radio formats.

However, Daigle’s song has broken the mold: “You Say” became a huge secular hit this year and seems to resonate with many folks outside the traditional Christian music genre.

So how rare is it to have a Christian song become a hit here in 2019?   The last time a CCM song crossed over and became a secular hit was “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe in 2003.

 

 

 

 

I can only imagine what it will be like

When I walk by Your side

I can only imagine what my eyes will see

When Your face is before me

I can only imagine, yeah

 

Surrounded by Your glory

What will my heart feel?

Will I dance for You, Jesus

Or in awe of You be still?

 

Will I stand in Your presence

Or to my knees will I fall?

Will I sing hallelujah?

Will I be able to speak at all?

 

I can only imagine

I can only imagine

Occasionally, a country artist singing about Christian topics will crossover to Top 40 radio. Just after Carrie Underwood won American Idol, she recorded the song, “Jesus Take the Wheel” in 2005. This song was a huge number 1 country hit before crossing over to Top 40 radio. It was the first of many hits by Underwood, to chart on multiple formats.

Rarely do songs like “I Can Only Imagine “ or “Jesus Take the Wheel” ever become crossover hits. But that hasn’t always been true on secular pop radio.

During the late 60’s and early 70’s, songs on various Christian topics were regularly played on Top 40 radio. Here are a few of the songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, in the golden age of Top 40 radio:

 

  • Oh Happy Day—Edwin Hawkins Singers
  • Jesus is a Soul Man—Lawrence Reynolds
  • Spirit in the Sky—Norman Greenbaum
  • Are You Ready—Pacific Gas and Electric
  • Superstar—Murray Head
  • Mighty Clouds of Joy—B.J. Thomas
  • I’ll Take You There–The Staple Singers

  • God, Love & Rock N’ Roll—Teegarden & Van Winkle
  • Why Me Lord—Kris Kristofferson
  • I Knew Jesus (Before He Was a Superstar)—Glen Campbell
  • Morning Has Broken—Cat Stevens
  • That’s the Way God Planned It—Billy Preston
  • Amazing Grace—Judy Collins
  • Speak To The Sky–Rick Springfield
  • I Don’t Know How To Love Him—Helen Reddy
  • Put Your Hand in the Hand—Ocean
  • Day By Day—Godspell
  • Jesus is Just Alright—Doobie Brothers
  • The Lord’s Prayer—Sister Janet Mead
  • The Wedding Song—Noel Paul Stookey
  • One Day at a Time–Marilyn Sellars

With the growth of CCM radio stations during the mid 70’s, there were not as many Christian songs played on Top 40 stations. Jesus Music was played exclusively on newly formatted 24 hour a day CCM stations, instead of secular music outlets.

There were a few songs with Christian themes that were hits in the late 70’s. One of those songs is Bob Dylan’s, “Gotta Serve Somebody” in 1979.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

It may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

The next significant artist to crossover and have two number I hits on the Billboard Hot 100 was Amy Grant. In 1986, Grant teamed up with Peter Cetera and recorded the duet, “Next Time I Fall” which peaked at number one. Five years later, her solo hit, “Baby Baby” was number 1, for three consecutive weeks during 1991.

Other Christian artists also had secular hits during the 90’s. Michael W Smith had a top 10 hit with “Place in This World” during the summer of 1991 and Jars of Clay had a multi-format crossover hit with their song, “Flood” during 1995.

That brings us to the surprising hit of “You Say” by Lauren Daigle.

“You Say” was written by Daigle, along with co-writers Paul Mabury and Jason Ingram. Last year, Daigle shared with CCM Magazine, the story behind the song.

“It was the day after my very first Dove awards (2015), and I remember being completely overwhelmed. I walked into the studio, and Paul and Jason, my producers, were in there and they’re like “All right what’s going on in your world, how’s it been?

It was the first time we had written since “How Can It Be”…I just remember feeling like so much had happened the night before, wondering How do I come back down to normal, how do I come back down to reality?

And I started realizing these patterns of really high highs and then, okay now there’s a low. Really high, high, now there’s a low…And Involving expectation in that space can just leave you kind of questioning your identity- Where do I fit in, where is my security, where is my footing?

So when writing “You Say,” I just remember feeling for the first time pretty conflicted. It was definitely the first moment in just being an artist that I was like Okay, where is all this going exactly?”

“And I know that we’ve all faced moments in life where we can feel a crossroads happen— where we can see the past and also see the future, and realize how we are supposed to exist in the present. And it was one of those moments where I could see where things were going and I knew exactly where I came from, and I needed those worlds to still be married.

And thus brought up the issue of identity and trying to figure out how to exist when I felt like so many things were pulling me in so many different directions. I think a lot of times we build these complexes based on insecurity, based on fear, based on rejection, and lies that we have to constantly overcome.

And so this song for me was just a reminder of identity. It was a reminder that I know when I’m weak, He’s strong—so how do I change that and bring that into my every day life? When I feel inadequate how is it that there’s always these moments where I feel like God just steps in and supersedes my inadequacies.

This entire song was so every single day I would get up on stage and remind myself—no, this is the truth, this is the truth, this is the truth. Don’t get buried in confusion. Don’t get buried in waywardness. Just remember to steady the course, steady the course.”

Daigle’s song, “You Say” was the first single from the album, “Look Up Child” and was released to CCM radio stations during July 2018. It immediately shot up the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart and became the number one song in America.

For the week of November 2nd, 2019, “You Say” spent its final week on top of the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart, logging 66 consecutive weeks at number 1. This broke the record that Hillsong United set of 61 straight weeks at number one with “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” during 2013-2014.

Interesting side note: Kanye West just replaced “You Say” as the top Christian song in America during the past two weeks with, “Follow God.”

Obviously, the “You Say” single was huge on Christian radio last year, as it was ranked the 2nd biggest song on 2018, according to Billboard magazine. With such a strong showing, Warner Brothers released Daigle’s song as a single to secular radio during January 2019.

Then in early February 2019, Daigle won a Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Christian Music performance with “You Say.” After her Grammy victory, Daigle’s song was added to many secular Adult Contemporary and Top 40 radio stations.

Her song then exploded on multiple radio formats, during the spring and summer of 2019. Here are some of the impressive stats on how well “You Say” performed on secular radio, according to Billboard:

  • Peaked at #1   Adult Contemporary
  • Peaked at #5   Adult Top 40
  • Peaked at #20 Mainstream Top 40
  • Peaked at #29 Billboard Hot 100

Daigle also won two other awards for “You Say” during 2019. In May, she picked up the Billboard, “Top Christian Song” award and last month Daigle took home the Gospel Music Association, “Song of the Year” award. 2019 has been an extremely successful year for Lauren Daigle.

The song, “You Say” isn’t the only musical success for the Lafayette, Louisiana native. Daigle’s album, “Look Up Child” spent 44 weeks at the number 1 position of the Billboard “Christian Album Chart.” The album also received a 2019 Grammy Award for, “Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.”

For those individuals who listen to CCM radio, they are familiar with three other hits from the album: The title track “Look Up Child” peaked at #3, “Rescue” reached #2 and Daigle’s current single is, “Still Rolling Stones” which is still charting during the fall of 2019.

Singer-songwriter Annie Lawrence with Lauren Daigle. Photo courtesy of Annie Lawrence.

The past 16 months have been a whirlwind for Lauren Daigle, with the unexpected success of her the song “You Say.”   A fair question to ask would be: What will be Daigle’s chart success in the future? Will she achieve multiple hits or go the way of Debby Boone and become a one hit wonder?

Although I do not know the reason why, “You Say” became a crossover hit, her song has resonated with many folks outside the CCM genre of music. Maybe there is a renewal of spiritual awakening happening in America?

Where will Lauren Daigle’s career go from here?   Obviously, that remains to be seen. The lyrics to Natasha Bedingfield’s song, “Unwritten” seems to sum it up best:

“Drench yourself in words unspoken

Live your life with arms wide open

Today is where your book begins

The rest is still unwritten”

 

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AT40, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1974 Singles: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Life is a rock but the radio rolled me

Gotta turn it up louder, so my DJ told me

Life is a rock but the radio rolled me

At the end of my rainbow lies a golden oldie

I remember listening to AM radio on my transistor radio and hearing the novelty hit, “Life is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)” during the summer of 1974.

Some music historians would point to the “one hit wonder” song by Reunion and proclaim that it was indicative of how bad the music was on Top 40 during 1974.   Many musical experts completely pan the entire year of 1974 music, claiming it to be the worst year ever for Top 40 radio. Is that hypothesis correct?

I completely understand why some folks may not like a lot of the top songs from 1974, as many of those tunes are horrid. However, I refuse to throw out the baby with the bath water.

During any given year, there are plenty of good songs and also bunches of wretched, insipid tunes. I refuse to categorically describe all music released during 1974 as wretched. I prefer to place the music from 45 years ago into three silos: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

For this edition of my musical musings, I will be investigating the Top 100 songs of 1974, which were compiled by Cash Box and Billboard music publications.

Here are the Top 20 songs from Cash Box:

  1. Show And Tell – Al Wilson (Rocky Road)
  2. Come And Get Your Love – Redbone (Epic)
  3. The Most Beautiful Girl – Charlie Rich (Epic)
  4. Rock Me Gently – Andy Kim (Capitol)
  5. The Way We Were – Barbra Streisand (Columbia)
  1. Sunshine On My Shoulders – John Denver (Rca Victor)
  2. You Make Me Feel Brand New – The Stylistics (Avco)
  3. Rock On – David Essex (Columbia)
  4. Seasons In The Sun – Terry Jacks (Bell)
  5. The Joker – The Steve Miller Band (Capitol)

  1. You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – Stevie Wonder (Tamla)
  2. Bennie And The Jets – Elton John (Mca)
  3. The Loco-Motion – Grand Funk (Capitol)
  4. Love’s Theme – The Love Unlimited Orchestra (20th Century)
  5. Spiders And Snakes – Jim Stafford (Mgm)
  1. Nothing From Nothing – Billy Preston (A&M)
  2. TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) – MFSB (Philadelphia Int’l)
  3. You’re Sixteen – Ringo Starr (Apple)
  4. The Night Chicago Died – Paper Lace (Mercury)
  5. Top Of The World – Carpenters (A&M)

Here are the Top 20 songs from Billboard:

  1. “The Way We Were” – Barbra Streisand
  2. “Seasons in the Sun” – Terry Jacks
  3. “Love’s Theme” – Love Unlimited Orchestra
  4. “Come and Get Your Love” – Redbone
  5. “Dancing Machine” – The Jackson 5
  1. “The Loco-Motion” – Grand Funk Railroad
  2. “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” – MFSB
  3. “The Streak” – Ray Stevens
  4. “Bennie and the Jets” – Elton John
  5. “One Hell of a Woman” – Mac Davis

  1. “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” – Aretha Franklin
  2. “Jungle Boogie” – Kool & the Gang
  3. “Midnight at the Oasis” – Maria Muldaur
  4. “You Make Me Feel Brand New” – The Stylistics
  5. “Show and Tell” – Al Wilson
  1. “Spiders and Snakes” – Jim Stafford
  2. “Rock On” – David Essex
  3. “Sunshine on My Shoulders” – John Denver
  4. “Sideshow” – Blue Magic
  5. “Hooked on a Feeling” – Blue Swede

As you can tell from comparing the two 1974 year-end surveys, there are distinct differences with these listings. I will be selecting my choices for Good, Bad and Ugly from these two lists.

The musical landscape of 1974 is dear to my heart, as my first job in radio started in April of that year. At age 18, I was hired to be a remote engineer by Top 40 radio station WROV in Roanoke, Virginia. 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.

Dave Woodson playing records for WROV Roanoke remote broadcast during 1974.

During my first remote broadcast, I worked with the legendary WROV DJ Larry Bly. The first song I played that day was “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone, so for sentimental reasons, I am placing that song in the Good category for 1974 singles.

Two other Good 1974 songs associated with WROV are “The Joker” by the Steve Miller Band and “Black Water” from the Doobie Brothers. The Roanoke radio station added “The Joker” during the fall of 1973, and was credited with a “gold record” by Capitol Records, as WROV was the first station in America to play the song.

Then during September 1974, WROV music director Chuck Holloway started playing “Black Water” as a Doobie Brothers album cut on his nighttime DJ air-shift. The WROV request line lit up every time “Black Water” was played and it immediately became a hit in Roanoke.

Soon after, Phil Beckman at WQRK Norfolk and Buzz Bennett with KDWB Minneapolis added “Black Water” to their playlists. Finally, Warner Bros Records released the song as a single and it became the first number 1 tune for the Doobie Brothers during March 1975. Later that year, WROV proudly received another “gold record” for breaking “Black Water” in America.

Working for WROV gave me a chance to thoroughly evaluate the music from 1974. From my perspective, there are a whole lot more Good songs than Bad or Ugly tunes from this year.

Since I will be evaluating just the top singles of 1974, according to Cash Box and Billboard, there are many Good songs that I will not be mentioning with this message. The sole parameter that I am using will be if the song made one of the year-end surveys for 1974.

Before I reveal my Top 10 good songs from 45 years ago, I am going to share some other significant songs from 1974. I consider all of these songs to be Good.

  • I Shot the Sheriff—Eric Clapton
  • Beach Baby—First Class
  • Sideshow—Blue Magic
  • Nothing From Nothing—Billy Preston
  • Rock on—David Essex

  • The Air That I Breathe—The Hollies
  • Annie’s Song—John Denver
  • Goodbye Yellow Brick Road—Elton John
  • Help Me—Joni Mitchell
  • Please Come to Boston—Dave Loggins

  • Be Thankful For What You Got—William DeVaughn
  • Then Came You—The Spinners & Dionne Warwick
  • Whatever Gets You Through the Night—John Lennon & Elton John
  • You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet—Bachman Turner Overdrive
  • (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long—Chicago

  • Hello It’s Me—Todd Rundgren
  • The Lord’s Prayer—Sister Janet Meade
  • Midnight Train To Georgia—Gladys Knight & the Pips
  • I Got A Name—Jim Croce
  • You Make Me Feel Brand New—The Stylistics

Now I will be focusing on what I consider to be the top ten Good songs of 1974.

The top ten songs that I have selected fit into the following categories: I deem the 10 songs to still be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant. There are no rankings with my listing and the songs are placed in a random order.

Time in a Bottle—Jim Croce    

After Jim Croce died in a plane crash during September 1973, “Time in a Bottle” was released as a single and became a posthumous number 1 hit.   The haunting lyrics of mortality and the wish to have more time, brings sadness to this melodic tune. The song truly resonated with music listeners and is one of Croce’s greatest musical achievements.

Band on the Run—Paul McCartney & Wings

The musical structure of “Band on the Run,” is absolutely incredible. Continuous switching of tempos, with three distinct music segments, the song flows into a musical masterpiece. Paul and Wings provide excellent three part harmonies throughout the song, which utilizes rock, funk and country influences. I consider “Band on the Run” to be the best song recorded by McCartney after the break up of the Beatles.

Living For the City—Stevie Wonder

Prior to 1974, Stevie Wonder sang mostly love songs and stayed away from controversial issues. This changed with his hit, “Living for the City.” It became one of his first songs to deal with racism and gave Wonder a chance to express concerns facing life in America. The other thing I admire about this song is that Wonder played all the instruments on this wonderful tune.

You Haven’t Done Nothin’—Stevie Wonder

The second good Stevie Wonder song of 1974 is “You Haven’t Done Nothin’.” With backup vocals from the Jackson 5, Wonder unleashes fiery lyrics about U.S. President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal. Ironically, Nixon resigned his presidency in August, the same month that Wonder’s song was released as a single.

Cat’s in the Cradle—Harry Chapin

Listening to Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” for the first time, one may think it is a mellow song. However, the subject matter is any thing but mellow. Chapin’s signature song paints a sorrowful picture with a father neglecting his son, and then when the son becomes a man, he actually neglects his father, the same way he was treated as a boy. This folk rock song gives a baleful warning with brilliant lyrics.

Sweet Home Alabama—Lynyrd Skynyrd

One of the most iconic Southern Rock songs from the 70’s, “Sweet Home Alabama” pans multiple political subjects and stoked controversial topics. The lyrics mention Neil Young and his song, “Southern Man,” the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace and the Watergate scandal. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first hit record has become an anthem for the state of Alabama.

For the Love of Money—The O’Jays

First Timothy 6:10 states, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” That message is the basis for the O’Jay’s hit song, “For the Love of Money.” This R&B groove features powerful vocals and has a killer bass line. The group from Philadelphia gives a powerful warning about the misuse of money on the toe-tapping soul song.

Takin’ Care of Business—Bachman Turner Overdrive

During the summer of 1974, Canadian rock band Bachman Turner Overdrive had one of the hottest sounding songs with, “Takin’ Care of Business.” Randy Bachman, formally of the Guess Who, teamed up with Fred Turner to give us straight-up catchy guitar rifts and tongue in cheek lyrics. The band from Canada sure knew how to rock during this year.

Keep on Smilin’—Wet Willie

 

Making lemonade out of lemons is the main message on Wet Willie’s song, “Keep on Smilin’.” The band was from Alabama, giving Southern Rock more exposure on Top 40 radio. A positive message is heard on the chorus, “Keep on smilin’ through the rain, laughin’ at the pain, just flowin’ with the changes, till the sun comes out again.”

Wet Willie’s biggest hit happened during the summertime.

Radar Love—Golden Earring

Throughout the history of Rock and Roll, there have been songs dealing with death. The Dutch band, Golden Earring, gave us a perfect “death rock” song in 1974. “Radar Love” is actually a “Rock Suite” and has two distinct musical segments. Lyrics mention Brenda Lee, driving at a high rate of speed in the middle of the night, and reconnecting with his angel “in the sky.” It is an excellent highway road song.

The next 6 songs are in the Bad category.

Spiders and Snakes—Jim Stafford

I don’t like spiders or snakes, and I sure don’t like Jim Stafford’s number 1 song about arachnids and serpents. “Spiders and Snakes’ ” lyrics of sexual innuendo are not clever and are down right trite. Stafford’s follow up hit, “My Girl Bill” was equally insipid and wretched to my ears. I don’t know why this became a hit record.

Midnight At The Oasis—Maria Maldaur

Some may call this song a guilty pleasure. I call the fantasy desert love affair song, “Midnight at the Oasis” lascivious. Maldaur’s stereotypes of Arab “sultans and sheiks” are appalling and her suggestive sexual euphemisms are way over the top. Lyrics like, “But you won’t need no harem, honey, when I’m by your side, and you won’t need no camel, when I take you for a ride” are absolutely insidious.

Maria Muldaur

The Streak—Ray Stevens

When the streaking craze happened in 1974, someone had to record a song on the topic. That someone was Ray Stevens. His novelty song, “The Streak” may have been funny the first time heard. After the second hearing, the song became annoying. These are lyrics I never want to hear again: “Don’t Look Ethel”, “Ethel, you shameless hussy”, “Ethel, you get your clothes on” and “Say it ain’t so, Ethel.” Ray Stevens’ number 1 song is a dud.

You’re Sixteen—Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr should have never covered the song “You’re Sixteen.” The Beatles drummer was 33 years old when he recorded the song, and it was creepy listening to it on the radio in 1974. I attended Ringo’s concert with His All Starr Band last month, and he is STILL performing “You’re Sixteen” during his shows. Hearing a 79 year old man singing this song is beyond disgusting. It is atrocious.

Ringo Starr at Roanoke Concert 8/13/19 Photo by Sammy Oakey

I Can Help—Billy Swan

Country crossover artist Billy Swan hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his dreadful song, “I Can Help.” The singer pleads, begs and promises to do any and every thing possible in order to be her lover. The last line of the song is unbelievable: “If your child needs a daddy, I can help, It would sure do me good to do you good, let me help.” Any woman that is gullible enough to believe that line definitely needs HELP!

Dark Lady—Cher

Normally, I can tolerate story songs but Cher’s number 1 song from 1974 is rather sordid. “Dark Lady” is a New Orleans fortune-teller, which the narrator of the song (Cher) goes to see. When money is paid for a fortune, the woman proclaims that Cher’s lover has been unfaithful and gives this advice: “Leave this place, never come back and forget you ever saw my face. “ Of course, Cher goes back to the fortune-teller with a gun, catches her lover kissing the woman, and shoots them both dead. Some may claim the song is clever, I maintain the song is just wretched.

Cher

Finally, here are 6 songs in the Ugly category:

I’m Leaving It Up To You—Donny and Marie Osmond

Every time that I heard Donny and Marie’s horrid song during 1974, I would sing, “I’m heaving it up on you.” Listening to this song made me want to puke! In deference to Marie Osmond, she should have never recorded any duets with her brother. Every single Donny Osmond song is completely detestable and obnoxious to my ears. Same for the Osmond Brothers. The song is ugly to the max!

Hooked On a Feeling—Blue Swede

Why would Swedish pop band sing, “Ooga-chaka, Ooga-Ooga, Ooga-Chaka” over and over, with their cover version of, “Hooked on a Feeling?” Why ruin a wonderful song, which B.J. Thomas made popular in 1968? I prefer listening to Thomas singing “Hooked on a Feeling.” Listening to Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” is worse than torture for me.

Blue Swede

The Night Chicago Died—Paper Lace

One may think that “The Night Chicago Died” was based on a true story. However, it is about a fictional shoot-out between the Chicago Police and members of Al Capone’s crime syndicate. Instead of Capone and his men meeting their doom, the lyrics state “about 100 cops are dead” at the hands of the gangsters. Even worse than unbelievable lyrics is the “bubble gum pop music” that Paper Lace performs on this vapid tune. Chicago would have been better off without this song by Paper Lace.

Billy Don’t Be a Hero—Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods

One of the sappiest bubble gum songs of 1974, “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” is the ultimate, miserable death pop music song. With the Vietnam Conflict still going on in 1974, many folks assumed that “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” was associated with the Southeast Asian war. However, the lyrics suggest it is about the American Civil War. A young woman is distraught that her fiancé chooses to enlist with the Army. Eventually, Billy is killed in action during a battle. A dreadfully sad tune, that continues to be irritating to me 45 years later.

(You’re) Having My Baby—Paul Anka

Besides being a duet with Odia Coates, I can’t think of anything positive about this Paul Anka song. “You’re Having My Baby” is overtly sentimental, sappy and the most sexist record of 1974. With Anka declaring, “it is his baby” without acknowledgement of the mother and her part in the pregnancy, is the ultimate in male chauvinism. Furthermore, the song was voted the number 1 “Worst Song of All Time” by CNN in 2006. Needless to say, this is one horrible tune.

Terry Jacks

Seasons in the Sun—Terry Jacks

The bubble gum, death pop tune, “Seasons in the Sun,” quite possibly is one of the worst songs ever made. The tune is an English-language adaptation of the song “Le Moribond” by Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel with lyrics rewritten by American singer-poet Rod McKuen. The singer laments that he is dying and says goodbye to his Papa, Michelle and a trusted friend. Terry Jacks’ singing delivery is a schmaltzy, emotional mess. Just hearing the opening chords of this song makes me shiver. Rolling Stone ranks the record as the 7th “Worst Song of the 70’s. I proclaim “Seasons in the Sun” as the ugliest of ugly songs of 1974.

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on the Good, Bad and Ugly singles from 1974, I am curious to find out your opinion on the music of that year.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of the 100 biggest songs from 1974. The songs that you might feel are the Good, Bad and Ugly, maybe be completely different from my selections.

So I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the Good, Bad and Ugly songs for 1974? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.

If anyone ever suggests that the music from 1974 is all bad and ugly, I hope those folks educate themselves. The majority of the top 100 songs from 1974 are on the good side of the ledger. Long live Top 40 music from 45 years ago!

Life is a rock but the radio rolled me

Gotta turn it up louder, so my DJ told me

Life is a rock but the radio rolled me

At the end of my rainbow lies a golden oldie

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

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Broadcasting, Music, Radio, Retro Rock

Back in the Summer of ’69

I got my first real six string,

Bought it at the five and dime,

Played it til my fingers bled,

Was the summer of ’69.

But when I look back now,

That summer seemed to last forever,

And if I had the choice,

Yeah, I’d always wanna be there,

Those were the best days of my life.

The “Summer of ‘69” was a time when Canadian rocker Bryan Adams was buying his first guitar and reminiscing about that summer being the “best days of his life.”

That summer of 1969 was an eventful time for those in the United States. The Vietnam War continued with over 500,000 American troops still in Southeast Asia and Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

During August, the Woodstock “3 Days of Peace and Music” Festival happened, with over 400,000 people attending one of the greatest events in rock music history. Meanwhile, the Beatles recorded their last album, “Abbey Road” just before John Lennon quit the legendary rock band.

The summer of 1969: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” to quote Charles Dickens from his book, “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Various Records that I bought during the summer of 1969.

It was during the hot summer of 1969, that I listened to the radio 10 to 12 hours a day and made a decision that I wanted to be a radio announcer when I grew up. My pursuit to become “DJ Dave” started in the summer of ‘69.

I have fond memories of listening to Top 40 radio during the summer of ‘69. Living in Roanoke, Virginia during this time, I would mostly listen to legendary Top 40 WROV 1240 AM in the daytime, with DJs Jack Fisher, Fred Frelantz and Bart Prater. I also would occasionally tune into WBLU 1480 AM Salem, a second Top 40 station in the Roanoke radio market. WBLU DJ’s Chris Shannon, Les Turpin and Bill Cassidy played the hits, while Dave Moran was the general manager at the station.

At sundown, WROV reduced their power and WBLU signed off the air, so I tuned my radio into stations 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.

Various records that I bought during the summer of 1969.

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 from that hot summer.

On nights that WLS or WABC were hard to pick up, I had other clear channel stations that I could listen to. 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 I spent so much time listening to Top 40 radio that summer, I decided that I wanted to become a DJ when I became an adult. My desire to work in radio became a reality for me five years later in 1974, as I landed a remote engineer position with WROV Roanoke when I was 18 years old.

Dave Woodson playing records for WROV Roanoke remote broadcast during 1974.

For the remaining portion of this message, I will be focusing on the music that was played on Top 40 radio during the summer of 69. I will be highlighting hits songs from 50 years ago that are still considered relevant here in 2019.

Musically, the summer of ‘69 is considered part of the “Golden Age of Top 40 Radio.” Diversity accurately describes the music that accounted for the biggest hits during that summer.

It was not uncommon to hear different genres played back to back: A DJ might start a music set with country crossover, “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash, segueing into a gospel song, “Oh Happy Day” from the Edwin Hawkins Singers and finally playing a reggae tune, “Israelites” by Desmond Decker and the Aces.

Various records that I bought during the summer of 1969.

To further show the diversity of the music, here are five songs that reached number 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Cash Box Top 100 charts during the summer of 69:

1. Get Back—The Beatles with Billy Preston

2. Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet—Henry Mancini & his Orchestra

3. In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)—Zager & Evans

4. Honky Tonk Women—The Rolling Stones

5. Sugar, Sugar—The Archies

In addition to those five songs, “In the Ghetto” by Elvis Presley spent the last week of June at the number 1 position on the Cash Box Top 100 chart.

WLS Chicago Hit Parade Surveys 7/21/69 & 8/4/69. Courtesy of Pete Battistini: Author of AMERICAN TOP 40 WITH CASEY KASEM (THE 1970’S)

Before I reveal my Top 10 most relevant songs from 50 years ago, I am going to share some other significant songs from the summer of ‘69.

Top Underrated Songs:

1. I’m Free—The Who

2. See—The Rascals

3. Marrakesh Express—Crosby Stills and Nash

4. Spinning Wheel—Blood Sweat and Tears

5. Polk Salad Annie—Tony Joe White

WROV Roanoke Super Summer Survey 8/24/69. Courtesy of DJ Steve Nelson and WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Top Love Songs:

1. What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)—Jr. Walker & the All Stars

2. Love (Can Make You Happy)—Mercy

3. Baby, I Love You—Andy Kim

4. My Cherie Amour—Stevie Wonder

5. My Pledge of Love—Joe Jeffries Group

My 45 RPM single of the Rascals “See” record that I bought in 1969.

Top Miscellaneous Subject Songs:

1. Grazing in the Grass—Friends of Distinction

2. Color Him Father—The Winstons

3. Black Pearl—Sonny Charles & the Checkmates

4. Sweet Caroline—Neil Diamond

5. More Today Than Yesterday—Spiral Staircase

My 45 RPM single of Oliver’s “Jean” record that I bought in 1969.

Now I will be focusing on what I consider to be the top ten 1969 summer radio songs. These are songs were either released and/or were hits between June and September 1969.

The top ten songs that I have selected fit into the following categories: I deem the 10 songs to still be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant. There are no rankings with my listing and the songs are placed in a random order.

My 45 RPM single of CCR’s “Fortunate Son/Down on the Corner” record that I bought in 1969.

One—Three Dog Night

When the Beach Boys and the Byrds started to wane on Top 40 radio, a new vocal powerhouse came upon the scene: Three Dog Night. Group members Chuck Negron, Danny Hutton and Cory Wells were all talented vocalists and their blended harmonies and vocal versatility soared with their catchy, up-tempo rock tune. “One” spent 3 weeks at number two on Cash Box Top 100 chart and was the first of 21 consecutive songs to reach the Billboard Top 40 between 1969 and 1975 for Three Dog Night.

Easy To Be Hard—Three Dog Night

Just after their song “One” became a hit, Three Dog Night had a second smash tune during the summer of 69: “Easy To Be Hard” from the Broadway musical “Hair.” Chuck Negron has excellent passion when singing the lyrics that question the harsh treatment of humanity: “How can people be so heartless, how can people be so cruel, easy to be hard?” Three Dog Night went on to have a 3rd Top 10 hit with “Eli’s Coming,” a Laura Nyro tune, during the fall of the same year.

Bad Moon Rising—Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR)

The second CCR song to reach number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, after “Proud Mary” in the spring of ‘69, is considered to be one of the first tunes in the “Swamp rock” genre of music. Plus, “Bad Moon Rising” has perhaps the most misheard lyric ever in modern music history. Many folks think CCR’s leader John Fogerty sings “There’s a bathroom on the right” instead of “There’s a bad moon on the rise.” “Bad Moon Rising” remains popular and is still played at many sporting events here in 2019.

Fortunate Son—Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR)

Summer of ‘69 was huge for CCR. The band played at Woodstock, 4 hit singles charted and their “Green River” album was released. Then in September, the band released “Fortunate Son.” The song quickly became an anti-war movement anthem and is considered a signature song for John Fogerty. In 2013, “Fortunate Son” was added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Crystal Blue Persuasion—Tommy James and the Shondells

With the Vietnam War ongoing, Tommy James had his 3rd consecutive top 10 hit, a song longing for a future age of brotherhood, harmony and living in peace. James has been quoted multiple times, stating that the inspiration for “Crystal Blue Persuasion” came from him reading the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Revelation in the Bible. The melodic acoustic guitar and organ on the tune help to make this song still sound good, 50 years later.

Get Back—The Beatles with Billy Preston

A song that was originally performed at the historic Beatles “Rooftop” concert in January 1969, the single “Get Back” was the first number 1 song, on both Billboard and Cashbox charts, during the summer of ‘69. The Beatles’ “Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down” single is the only time that another artist was credited on a Fab Four recording, with Billy Preston sharing the honor for the biggest Beatles single in 1969. “Get Back” was also the Beatles’ first single released in America in true stereo.

Get Together—The Youngbloods

With the catchy chorus, “Come on people now/Smile on your brother/Everybody get together/Try to love one another right now,” the Youngbloods created a timely classic with their “Love and Peace” anthem “Get Together.” American involvement in the Vietnam War remained strong in 1969 and the song was a huge hit on Top 40 radio. It was also embraced by many Christian churches during this time period, that wanted to promote “Love and Peace” in their congregations. A true quintessential song from the golden age of Top 40 radio.

Put a Little Love in Your Heart—Jackie DeShannon

It is interesting to look back on how many of the most significant songs from 50 years ago were on the subject of love and peace. Jackie DeShannon’s biggest hit record, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” is one of those “Love and Peace” songs that resonated with radio listeners in the summer of 69. Along with DeShannon’s other big hit, “What the World Needs Now,” her message of seeking love and peace, rather than war, is still relevant today.

In the Ghetto—Elvis Presley

For most folks who think about Elvis songs, very few remember his songs of social concerns. “In the Ghetto” is completely different than almost every other Elvis tune and provided a comeback for the “King of Rock and Roll” in 1969. The Mac Davis-written song tells a narrative of generational poverty that is set in the city of Chicago. With the success of this song, Elvis charted two consecutive number 1 songs in 1969: “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds.”

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes—Crosby Stills and Nash (CSN)

When CSN played at Woodstock during August 1969, the band opened up their set list with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” The song was the second single from the CSN self-titled debut album, after “Marrakesh Express” and was released as a single in September ‘69. The tune is made up of four separate sections and is seamlessly woven together by excellent harmonies of the band. Truly, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is the signature song for CSN.

Various records that I bought during the summer of 1969.

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on the most significant singles from the summer of 1969, I am curious to find out your opinion on the music from 50 years ago.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of music from the golden age of Top 40 radio. The songs that you feel are the best from the summer of 1969 could be completely different than my selections.

So I am asking for your opinion: What songs do you feel are the best, greatest or most significant singles from the summer of 1969?

Listening to the music on Top 40 radio in 1969 highlighted some of the best days of my life. Rock on!

I leave you with the ending lyrics to “Crystal Blue Persuasion:”

Maybe tomorrow.

When he looks down,

On every green field,

And every town,

All of his children,

In every nation,

There’ll be peace and good,

Brotherhood,

Crystal blue persuasion

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Artist Profiles, Music, Radio, Virginia Artists

Robin and Linda Williams: The Shenandoah Valley’s Musical Pioneers

When I want to hear quintessential Americana music, all I need to do is to travel up the Shenandoah Valley, 90 miles from Roanoke to Staunton, for the music of Robin and Linda Williams.

Known to many for their regular performances on Garrison Keillor’s live radio show “A Prairie Home Companion,” the husband and wife duo have been making music from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia since the 1970’s.

As their official website states: “For more than four decades now, Robin & Linda have made it their mission to perform the music that they love, ‘a robust blend of bluegrass, folk, old-time and acoustic country that combines wryly observant lyrics with a wide-ranging melodicism.

“Today some might call it ‘Americana,’ but these two revered music masters were living and breathing this elixir 20 years before that label was turned into a radio format.”

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Last month, I spoke with Robin and Linda via phone to find out what the couple has been doing musically over the course of their career and to check out what their plans are for 2019.

I first met Robin and Linda during my junior year attending James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia during the late 70’s. I worked at public radio station WMRA and was the producer of a daily radio program called “Country Afternoon.”

My radio program featured folk, bluegrass and old time country music. Once a month, “Country Afternoon” would have bands and performers from the Shenandoah Valley come to the station to give a live one-hour concert on the radio. Robin and Linda performed on my “Country Afternoon” radio program. Little did I know that this husband and wife duo from Augusta County would one day be nationally known for their iconic music style.

Robin and Linda met in 1971 and quickly realized that they made beautiful music together. The duo started writing their own songs and by 1975, they recorded their first album, the self-titled, “Robin and Linda Williams” on Flashlight Records in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Around the same time, the husband and wife team met Garrison Keillor in Minnesota. As Robin and Linda’s website states: “They made their first appearance on a little radio show just getting off the ground called “A Prairie Home Companion” and their rich relationship with that icon of American broadcasting has continued for four decades.”

In my joint phone interview with Robin and Linda last month, I asked the Williamses if they ever lived in Minnesota? Linda replied “No. We would fly to Minneapolis on Thursday evenings prior to a Saturday show and then stay in the land of 10,000 lakes for a total of 11 days. We would then perform on consecutive Saturdays but still live in the Shenandoah Valley.”

The Virginian couple met Garrison Keillor, “when he came to see us at a venue about 60 miles from St. Paul,” Linda explained. “After watching us for a set of songs, Keillor asked us to come play the radio show. That was in the fall of 1975 and we have worked with him ever since: On the radio, doing concerts and performing on cruise ships.”

“Concerning Garrison, he has been a friend and a mentor to us and he’s the most talented person we’ve ever been around. And we’ve been around some legends”, Linda admired.   The Shenandoah Valley couple will be working again will Keillor again next winter on a Cuban cruise.

Robin and Linda Williams

Over the years, the duo has performed thousands of concerts across the United States, Canada and Europe. Additionally, Robin and Linda are known as superb songwriters. Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea, Tom T. Hall, George Hamilton IV and the Seldom Scene have all covered songs written by Robin and Linda.

According to their website, “Robin and Linda have made appearances on such major programs as ‘The Grand Old Opry,’ ‘Austin City Limits,’ ‘Music City Tonight,’ ‘Mountain Stage’ and they continue to make frequent appearances on ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’   Having always sung gospel music, in the late 1980s they teamed up with their old friend and “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor and bluegrass songstress Kate MacKenzie to form The Hopeful Gospel Quartet.

Robin and Linda Williams

One of the things that I admire the most about Robin and Linda’s music is their focus on the place they have called home for over 40 years: The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

I asked the Williamses if they could share with me the influence that living in the Shenandoah Valley has had on their music. Here are Robin and Linda’s thoughts with their four selections:

 

  1. “Stonewall Country”

 

“[This song] got its title from a little known fact that the term was used in the early to mid-19th century as a moniker for the Shenandoah Valley. Evidently the farmers used the limestone rocks they cleared from their fields as fences and walls, thus “stone wall country.”

 

“We changed the title to “Stonewall Country” because the song was written for the musical we wrote about Stonewall Jackson for the “The Theater “at Lime Kiln in Lexington, Virginia.

 

I make my home in Stonewall Country/Down a crooked lane/Where the fields steep and rocky/Took such toil to claim/Now the plows run deep in Stonewall Country/The ground gives back good yields/And the rocks that blocked the furrows/So worrisome to wield/Stand in fences ‘round the fields.

 

I may leave the Shenandoah/But she’ll never leave my heart/ Stonewall Country, clear-eyed daughter of the stars/Stonewall Country, clear-eyed daughter of the stars.

  1. “Buena Vista”

 

“Another song that comes to mind our song “Buena Vista,” a tale that mentions not only the Rockbridge County town but also some landmarks like the Maury River.”

 

So you beat a path to Rockbridge Baths/ ’cause blood kin won’t quit ya/

Or try to dry you out like they do in Buena Vista/

It’s a long walk from your front porch to the Maury River’s edge/

But it’s longer when you’re drunk and hauling back a broken leg/

So here’s to the sawbones who pinned you up and fixed ya/

But you’re out of action lying in traction down in Buena Vista

 

  1. “These Old Dark Hills”

 

“Linda got the title of the song “These Old Dark Hills” after a late afternoon winter walk around our property and looking over to the Allegheny Mountains. Seeing those mountains every day for over forty years, they almost seem like friends,” said Robin.

These Old Dark Hills/On which sore eyes can rest/These Old Dark Hills/Ridge after ridge to the west          

  1. “October Light”

 

“[This] is a song that comes quickly to mind. It’s about the beauty of fall in the Shenandoah Valley.”

Each day we walk up on the hill/And watch the setting sun/Play on the trees and fields until/It falls and day is done/Yellow, orange, blue and rose/The colors neon bright/The evening sky is all aglow/With this October Light.

 

Robin and Linda Williams

Obviously, the Shenandoah Valley is a special place for Robin and Linda. However, their songs cover a wide variety of topics and are respected by fellow songwriters all across many genres of music.

So I asked the Williams couple if they could share with me their top 5 essential songs. These would be the songs they would like for a person to hear, if they were checking out the Virginia duo’s music for the first time. Here are Robin and Linda’s thoughts on each song:

 

  1. “Old Plank Road”

 

“On the last day of filming ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ director Robert Altman’s last movie, we were asked to perform one of our songs to use for the movie soundtrack. ‘Old Plank Road,’ is a song about a music party in Batesville, VA, and Altman used seven or eight minutes of the film cutting away from us singing it to other scenes that helped develop the story line.”

Charlie you’re a good old boy Charlie you’re all right/Charlie open up the store, we’re coming down tonight/Out where you can see the stars and the living’s slow/We’ll eat potluck and pull guitars down on Old Plank Road.

  1. “Rolling and Rambling (the Death of Hank Williams)”

 

[This song] has never left our repertoire (probably the only one) and which Emmylou Harris recorded.”

Rolling and Rambling, the women loved him half to death/He sang with whiskey on his breath/His heart broke like a child/Rolling and Rambling, the sun has set out on the trail/The hobo’s drifted up the rail/He’s taken his last ride.

 

  1. “Don’t Let Me Come Home A Stranger”

 

“[This song] was in the “Stonewall Country” musical and has made it into the repertoires and recordings of several American and British Isles singers.”

Will there come a time when the memories fade/And pass on with the long, dark years/When the ties no longer bind. Lord save me from this darkest fear/Don’t Let Me Come Home A Stranger/I couldn’t stand to be a stranger

  1. “Across The Blue Mountains”

 

“[This is] a local, traditional, a cappella song that we found on a party tape with Paul Clayton singing it. We’ve sung it for over 35 years and it’s the vehicle that opened the door to our friendship with the legendary Dave Van Ronk.”

One morning, one morning, one morning in May/I heard a married man to a young girl say/Go dress you up pretty Katy and come go with me/Across the Blue Mountains to the Allegheny

 

  1. “Famous In Missouri”

 

“We’re proud of it because it was sung and released as a single by Tom T. Hall, a member of the Country Music and Songwriters Halls of Fame. He was so successful and had such respect as a songwriter that folks labeled him “The Story Teller.” His recording of our song helped us garner respect as songwriters ourselves.”

I was famous in Missouri/Everybody knew my name/Kansas City to old St. Louis/They knew how well I played my game/Now it sure feels strange /To be in South Dakota, out on the range

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Being part of the Shenandoah Valley music community has always been extremely important for the Williams couple. Linda states, “We have a network of local musician friends – some professional, some not – some old, some new – and via this musical community we’ve been able make contributions to the area.

“Robin and I started a concert series at the Lime Kiln Theater during the mid-80s. We have also helped start a couple of festivals: The Oak Grove Folk Music Festival in Verona (now in its 36th year) and the Fortune-Williams Festival with Jimmy Fortune, the Country Music Hall Of Famer, which ran for 10 years.”

Clearly, Robin and Linda have been an integral part of the Shenandoah Valley music scene for over 40 years and the duo continues to work on and develop new musical projects here in 2019.

Robin and Linda Williams

One proposed project is for a new musical TV show on Virginian music called ‘Road Trip: Virginia Live.’ Robin explains, “The idea is to go to historic venues in Virginia and present a half hour music show based not only on the musical acts but also the venues.”

The other project for the Williamses this year is the production of a new album, which will be recorded at their home in Staunton. “We called our friend Kevin McNoldy, who showed up with portable recording gear and two Townsend microphones in April and we recorded six songs,” said Linda.

“Our house in Staunton is old and has high ceilings and the room sounds wonderful, better than some studios we’ve recorded in the past,” she said. “We sat in our living room with those Townsend mics and got some really good stuff. Robin and I have recorded six CDs with Kevin in the past and it’s been fun re-connecting with him. We’ll continue recording in June and July.”

Robin and Linda Williams in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia

Touring has always been an important part in the musical career of Robin and Linda, and the couple will have concerts scheduled between now and October. Their next show will be at The Harvester in Rocky Mount, Virginia. The Williamses’ friend, Scott Miller will be opening up for the duo at this concert venue. I am looking forward attending this concert, along with my wife Priscilla. For more information on upcoming concerts and to purchase music, please go to the official Robin and Linda website.

What will be the legacy of Robin and Linda? They are leaders in the Shenandoah Valley music scene and their fingerprints are throughout the musical landscape of Virginia. Without a doubt, Robin and Linda Williams are the quintessential duo of Americana music in America!

 

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