Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

Premier Pop Instrumental Hits of the 60s: 1965-1969

During the past 30 to 35 years, it has been extremely rare for instrumental songs to become hits on the Billboard Hot 100.  However, hit songs without singing were commonplace on Top 40 radio from 1960 through 1985. In that time span, there were 18 different instrumental songs all peaking at number one.

The biggest instrumental hit of the 60s is “The Theme from a Summer Place” by Percy Faith and the Orchestra. This monster hit spent 9 consecutive weeks at number 1 and was the biggest record of 1960 according to Billboard.  Faith won a Grammy Award for “Record of the Year” in 1961 for this song.

The summer of 1968 was the pinnacle for instrumental hits on Top 40 radio.  On the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week ending August 3, there are three instrumentals in the top eight positions: “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams peaked at #2, “Grazing in the Grass” from Hugh Masekela ranked #4 and “The Horse” by Cliff Noble and Co was number 8.

At the end of 1968, Billboard ranked 6 instrumental songs in their “Year-End Hot 100 Singles” chart with Paul Mauriat’s tune “Love is Blue” coming in as the second biggest record for ’68.

With this latest music blog message, I will be counting down what I consider to be the top 10 most significant instrumental singles between the years of 1965 and 1969. This time frame is considered to be part of the “Golden Age of Top 40 Radio.”

Criteria that I am using in this article:

  • Tune charted during the 1965 to 1969 time period
  • Single peaked at number 10 or higher on the Billboard Hot 100 chart
  • Song has NO voices, speaking of words or whistling anywhere on the tune

My favorite instrumental:  Soul Coaxing by Raymond Lefèvre and His Orchestra. Peaked at number 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the spring of 1968.

Instrumentals that are good but not eligible for my countdown because of human voices, brief singing or whistling:

  • Soul Finger—The Bar-Kays
  • The Good, The Bad and the Ugly—Hugo Montenegro
  • No Matter What Shape—The T-Bones
  • I Was Kasier Bill’s Batman—Whistling Jack Smith
  • The “In” Crowd—Ramsey Lewis Trio

Instrumental songs just outside of my top 10

  • Hang ‘Em High—Booker T and the MGs
  • Quentin’s Theme—Charles Randolph Grean Sounde
  • Keem-O-Sabe—Electric Indian

As Casey Kasem used to say on his American Top 40 show: “And now it’s on with the countdown.”

10.  Midnight Cowboy—Ferrante & Teicher (1969)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Easy Listening, #10 Hot 100

Musical score written by John Berry for the 1969 film “Midnight Cowboy.”  The Ferrante & Teicher duo were American piano players who recorded many movie soundtracks, show tunes and light classical music tunes.

9.    Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet—Henry Mancini & His Orchestra (1969)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 15th Biggest Hit of 1969

From the 1969 movie “Romeo & Juliet.” Music written by Nino Rota and rearranged by Henry Mancini, who plays the piano on the tune. Session musician Hal Blaine added drums to this track.

8.    Grazing in the Grass—Hugh Masekela (1968)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, 18th Biggest Hit of 1968.

Hugh Masekela was a jazz trumpet player from South Africa. Music was composed by Philemon Hou and features a cowbell.  Tune inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018.

7.    Hawaii Five-0—The Ventures (1969)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #4 Hot 100, 58th Biggest Hit of 1969

Written by Morton Stevens as the theme music for CBS TV series Hawaii Five-O. The Ventures cover version spent 14 weeks on the Billboard chart. One of the band’s biggest hits.

6.    The Horse—Cliff Nobles & Co (1968)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #2, Hot 100, 21st Biggest Hit of 1968

Interesting that Cliff Nobles didn’t perform on the tune credited to him. A group of session musicians jammed in the studio to create the instrumental track. “The Horse” was released as the B-Side of the 45-rpm single “Love is All Right” and is the instrumental version of that tune.

5.    Soulful Strut—Young-Holt Unlimited (1968)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #3 Hot 100, #2 Easy Listening

Young-Holt Unlimited was a jazz trio from Chicago, Illinois. The music ensemble included Eldee Young and Isaac “Redd” Holt who both left Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1966, as well as Ken Chaney who became a member in 1968.

4.    Time is Tight—Booker T and the MGs (1969)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #6 Hot 100, 3rd Biggest Hit of 1969

Booker T and the MGs were a mainstay with Stax Records out of Memphis, Tennessee and the are considered the quintessential R&B instrumental band of the 60s. These musicians had seven Top 40 hits and the group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.

3.    Love is Blue—Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra (1968)

Peak positions on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, 2nd Biggest Hit of 1968

With “Love is Blue” reaching number 1 for five weeks during February and March in 1968, Paul Mauriat became the first French artist to top the Billboard Hot 100. The tune also spent 11 weeks at number 1 on the “Easy Listening” chart and became the second best selling record in 1969 according to Billboard.

2.    A Taste of Honey—Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (1965)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #1 Easy Listening, #7 Hot 100

Signature tune by Herb Alpert received four Grammy Awards, including “Record of the Year” in 1966. “A Taste of Honey” topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart for five weeks and the American trumpeter was a 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.

  1. Classical Gas—Mason Williams (1968)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #2 Hot 100, 43rd Biggest Hit of 1968

“Classical Gas” was composed by Mason Williams and features instrumental backup by the professional session musicians known as the “Wrecking Crew.” During 1969, the tune won three Grammy Awards for categories all associated with instrumental music. Without a doubt, the musical masterpiece known as “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams is my number 1 selection for the best instrumental top 40 single of the mid to late 60s.

Now that I have submitted my top 10 premier pop instrumental hits of the 60s, I am curious to find out your opinions of this topic.  What are your favorite songs on my countdown?

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts and comments below on what you consider to be the best Top 40 pop instrumental hits from the mid to late 60s.  I look forward reading your responses. Rock on!

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

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

Top Ten Radio Hits of the 70s: Not Released as 45 RPM Singles

Graphic above by Julianne Woodson

What are the best songs played on Top 40 radio during the 70s that were not released as singles by record companies?

Obviously, there are no definitive answers to my question. If I asked the above inquiry to 100 folks, I would surely receive one hundred different responses.

A framed WROV 70s poster owned by Barry Michaels, a 1978-1981 WROV DJ. Photo is courtesy of Barry Michaels.

With this latest music blog message, I will be revealing my top selections based on these factors: Growing up in Roanoke, Virginia, listening to WROV 1240 AM and then being employed by the legendary top 40 station, starting in 1974.

My regular radio listening started in the spring of 1967 after my parents gave me a transistor radio.  I quickly discovered WROV and was hooked on their Top 40 format.

WROV Roanoke DJs Fred Frelantz and Jack Fisher in 1967. Photo courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Then in the summer of 1967, I commandeered a desk-top tube radio from our kitchen and permanently kept this device in my bedroom.  On most nights that summer, I would tune in 50,000-watt, clear channel AM radio stations, such as WLS 890 Chicago and WABC 770 New York.

When I started listening to the radio 55 years ago, I quickly realized that Top 40 stations aired only songs that were released as 45-rpm singles by record companies.  The biggest album from the 1967 “summer of love” was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by the Beatles. Since Capitol Records didn’t release any singles on the Fab Four album, there were no songs from the LP regularly played on Top 40 outlets.

It wasn’t until late 1968/early 1969, that I noticed Top 40 radio playing album tracks.  The Beatles “White Album” came out during November 1968 but Capitol Records did not release any singles from the LP in America. However, many top 40 formatted stations played select cuts from the self-titled Beatles album.

On WROV Roanoke, they played three tracks from the Beatles “White Album.” First, the station aired “Back in the U.S.S.R” and then followed up with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Rocky Raccoon.”

 Above is an audio clip when I was a guest DJ for a My Fab Four segment on SiriusXM’s the Beatles Channel.  Featured on this audio clip: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” & “Back in the USSR” from the “White Album.” Two of my four favorite Beatles songs of all-time.

WROV Roanoke Fabulous Forty Musicard for February 16, 1969. Courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett. This survey actually mentions WROV playing “Rocky Raccoon” from the Beatles “White Album.”

Forward to the 70s.  Most Top 40 stations were still on the AM band at the beginning of the decade. The emergence of FM radio in the late 60s and early 70s created challenges for existing AM radio stations.

Audio aircheck Bart Prater WROV Roanoke May 1973. Courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Since music sounded 100% better on FM, ratings for AM Top 40 stations starting declining. To compensate for the competitive disadvantage AM Top 40 radio had against new FM signals, many long-standing AM outlets decided to tweak their traditional playlists.

WROV Roanoke DJ Bart Prater. Photo courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett

Most Top 40 AM stations in the early 70s started playing the longer album version of songs rather than the shorter edited 45-rpm single record. Many of these AM outlets also embraced the playing of “non-single” album tracks on their hot rotation playlists. 

Sometimes an AM Top 40 station playing an album track would result in a record company releasing a song as a 45-rpm single. This happened during my first job in radio at WROV in 1974.

DJ Chuck Holloway left and myself Dave Woodson playing records at WROV Roanoke remote broadcast in 1974.

 During early September 1974, WROV music director Chuck Holloway started playing the song “Black Water”, which was a track from the Doobie Brothers “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits” album. After just a few spins on Holloway’s nighttime DJ air-shift, “Black Water” became an immediate hit in Roanoke.

Soon after, Phil Beckman at WQRK Norfolk and Buzz Bennett with KDWB Minneapolis added “Black Water” to their playlists. Finally, Warner Bros Records released the song as a single and the Doobie Brothers achieved their first number 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 during March 1975.  WROV received a gold record for being the first radio station to play and break “Black Water” as a hit song in America.

For the remainder of this message, I will be counting down what I consider to be the ten best classic Top 40 hits of the 70s. These were songs that received heavy airplay on WROV 1240 AM Roanoke, played as an album track and not released by a record company as a 45 RPM single.

Audio aircheck of Dan Alexander WROV Roanoke 12/31/71. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

My countdown of songs in this category is based solely on my experience of living in Roanoke, Virginia and listening to Top 40 WROV. The ten selections below are from my point of reference and are not meant to be a definitive listing of top album tracks aired on Top 40 radio in America during the 70s.

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

Audio aircheck of Larry Bly WROV Roanoke April 1973. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Before starting the countdown, here are some clarification points on non-single album tracks played on Top 40 radio:

  • Information on album tracks not released as 45 RPM singles pertains only to the United States.

  • Time frame for non-single songs is up to 24 months after an album was initially released.

  •  Since only singles were eligible to appear on Billboard Hot 100, album tracks didn’t qualify to chart in the 70s.

  • Some songs that were originally album tracks only may have subsequently been released as a single, years or even decades after the first release of a song.

  • Later versions of singles could be in a variety of formats:  45 RPM, 12 Inch disc, Cassette, CD or Digital Download.

  • With the 2001 advent of iTunes, all songs on countdown can now be purchased as a digital single: via multiple Internet platforms.
WROV air staff outside of the WROV building. Fall 1975. Photo courtesy of the WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

While the album tracks from the countdown are associated with airplay on WROV, all of the selections are still well-known songs in the 21st Century.  Most can be heard daily on various radio outlets:  classic rock, classic hits, oldies and multiple SiriusXM channels in 2022.

Audio aircheck of Terry Young WROV Roanoke May 1973. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.
WROV DJ Bill Jordan in the studio during 1975. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

A song just outside of my top 10 countdown is an album track that WROV played during 1976: “Turn the Page” from the Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band LP, “Live Bullet.”  Two singles were released from the album: “Nutbush City Limits” and a medley of “Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser”

WROV’s Music Director and DJ Bill Jordan provides information below on why he decided adding “Turn the Page” to his station’s playlist in 1976: “I was music director during a pretty interesting time at WROV. We had morphed into sort of a Top 40/Album Oriented format, and readily played album cuts that “fit” the sound we wanted.”

Audio aircheck of Bill Jordan & Starr Stevens WROV Roanoke September 1975. Courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett.

Jordan continues, “A friend switched me on to Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” from his “Live Bullet” album. We started playing it in very light rotation and it quickly exploded. Record stores couldn’t keep the album in stock.

In fact, “Turn the Page” became so popular that Capitol Records considered delaying the release of the “Night Moves” album. In 1977, Seger performed at the Salem Civic Center in his last show as an opening act for Black Sabbath.

“Turn The Page” brought the house down. Great times!”

It is now time for the countdown. The top ten radio hits of the 70s not released as 45 RPM singles:

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

10.  Southern Man—Neil Young

From the “After the Gold Rush” album: Released September 19, 1970

WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Terry Young 1973

Singles released from album:   “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and “When You Dance, I Can Really Love.”

Photo of my vinyl record: “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young

“Southern Man” is found on two albums: Neil Young’s 1970, “After the Gold Rush” LP and a live version on a live 1971 Crosby Stills Nash & Young album, “4 Way Street.”  WROV DJ Terry “Motormouth” Young played this track on his 7 to midnight shift during the winter and spring of 1973. The fast-talking DJ went on bigger radio stations like WLEE Richmond and WCAU Philadelphia.  Terry Young was also on SiriusXM’s 60s on 6 channel during the first part of this century.

9.    Isn’t She Lovely—Stevie Wonder

From the “Songs in the Keys of Life” album: Released September 28, 1976

WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Rob O’Brady 1977

Singles released from album: “I Wish”, “Sir Duke”, “Another Star” and “As.”

Photo of my vinyl record: “Songs in the Key of Life” by Stevie Wonder

When Stevie Wonder’s album “Songs in the Key of Life” came out, many consumers wanted Tamla Records to release “Isn’t She Lovely” as a single. Wonder didn’t want his over six-minute song to be edited and refused to have his song cut up into a shorter 45-RPM record. Many Top 40 stations played the song anyway, including WROV.  Rob O’Brady would often play Wonder’s album track on his morning drive show and announce that it was dedicated to his loyal listeners, fondly known as “O’Brady’s Ladies.”

8.    Let It Flow—Eric Clapton

From the “461 Ocean Boulevard” album: Released July 1974

WROV DJs I Associate with Song: Chuck Holloway, Bart Prater & Rob O’Brady 1974

Singles released from album: “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Willie and the Hand Jive.” 

Photo of my vinyl record: “461 Ocean Boulevard” by Eric Clapton

While most Top 40 stations added “Willie and the Hand Jive” to their playlists after Eric Clapton hit number 1 with “I Shot the Sheriff”, WROV went in another direction.  Music director Chuck Holloway added the album track “Let it Grow” to its hot rotation and aired in all day-parts. Clapton plays a dobro on this track and Yvonne Elliman provides backup vocals on this melodic tune.

7.    South City Midnight Lady—The Doobie Brothers

From “The Captain and Me” album: Released March 2, 1973

WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Bart Prater & Larry Bly 1973

Singles released from album: “Long Train Running” and “China Grove.”

Photo of my vinyl record: “The Captain & Me” by the Doobie Brothers

“South City Midnight Lady” is quite different from most Doobie Brothers songs. The tune features a pedal steel guitar, strings and synthesizer. I distinctly remember WROV’s morning DJ Larry Bly playing the song regularly in the fall of 1973.  However, I mostly associate this Doobie Brothers song with afternoon announcer Bart Prater. “South City Midnight Lady” was Prater’s favorite song that he played on WROV.  The legendary Roanoke DJ played it regularly on the station between 1973 and 1981, before leaving to work at crosstown K92 FM.

6.    The Chain—Fleetwood Mac

From the “Rumours” album: Released February 4, 1977

WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Rob O’Brady 1977

Singles released from album: “Go Your Own Way”, “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun.”

Photo of my vinyl record: “Rumours” by Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac (FM) was hot on Top 40 radio in 1977 with four-top 10 singles.  Fans wanted more songs to be played from the “Rumours” album and WROV obliged by adding a fifth song from the LP.  “The Chain” is the only FM song from the album with writing credits from all five members (Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood.  The band also regularly opens their concert tours by playing “The Chain.”

5.    Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding—Elton John

From the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album: Released October 5, 1973

WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Chuck Holloway 1974

Singles released from album: “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Bennie and the Jets.”

Photo of my vinyl record: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John

“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” was too long for a single release, but we played it at WROV in 1974 when I first started working for the station.  Coming in at over 11-minutes long, this rock song was aired only after 7 pm and then up to 5 am the next morning.    Chuck Holloway played it at least once every evening on his air shift.  This medley of two songs from the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album, is a renowned musical masterpiece by the Bernie Taupin/Elton John duo.

4.    I Heard It Through the Grapevine—Creedence Clearwater Revival

From the “Cosmo’s Factory” album: Released July 8, 1970

WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Bill Thomas 1970

Singles released from album: “Travelin’ Band/Who’ll Stop the Rain”, “Up Around the Bend/Run Through the Jungle” and “Lookin’ Out My Backdoor/Long as I Can See the Light.”

Photo of my vinyl record: “Cosmo’s Factory” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) had 3-double sided top 5 hit singles from their “Cosmos Factory” album.  In the fall of 1970, many Top 40 stations played CCR’s 11-minute cover version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”  At WROV, the CCR album track only aired during night time air shifts.  7 to midnight DJ Bill Thomas played the album track on Roanoke’s top 40 outlet.

In 1972, CCR broke up and John Fogerty had a nasty falling out with his record company.  Fantasy Records released an edited 3:53 version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” as a single.  It peaked at number 43 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973. Obviously, this version cuts out most of the outstanding instrumental ending with the Motown cover tune.

3.    Maybe I’m Amazed—Paul McCartney

From self-titled “McCartney” album: Released April 17, 1970

WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Jack Fisher 1970

Photo of my vinyl record: Self-Tilted “McCartney” album by Paul McCartney

Apple Records was in a quandary in April 1970:  Paul McCartney officially confirmed that the Beatles had broken up, and the last Fab Four album, “Let it Be” was set to be released in May, along with the Beatles single, “The Long and Winding Road.”

On top of all that activity, a self-titled “McCartney” debut solo album, came out just a week after the news that the Beatles were history.  It was then decided by Apple Records that no singles would be released from Sir Paul’s LP.  That didn’t stop WROV from adding the album track “Maybe I’m Amazed” to its playlist. It was a midday favorite of legendary DJ Jack Fisher.

Back cover of my “McCartney” vinyl record album.

Forward to December 1976:  an album by Paul McCartney & Wings was released called “Wings Over America.”  This live LP featured a cover of “Maybe I’m Amazed” and it became the lead single from the album. This new rendition peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the spring of 1977.

2.    Baba O’Riley—The Who

From the “Who’s Next” album: Released August 14, 1971

WROV DJ I Associate with Song: Dan Alexander 1971

Singles released from album: “Won’t Get fooled Again” and Behind Blue Eyes.”

Photo of my vinyl record: “Who’s Next” by the Who

The opening track from the 1971 “Who’s Next” album is “Baba O’Riley.”  The song most music critics consider as the best ever recorded by the Who was not released as a 45-RPM single 51 years ago.

According to Wikipedia:  “Baba O’Riley” appears in Time magazine’s “All-Time 100 Songs” list, Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”

Back cover of my “Who’s Next” vinyl record album.

My fond memory of hearing this album track played on WROV:  DJ Dan Alexander created comedy bits on his AM drive show, under the fictional character name of Marvin Meriweather. One morning just after Alexander started playing “Baba O’Riley”, Marvin shouts out the chorus refrain: “It’s only TEENAGE WASTELAND, they’re all WASTED.”   It was truly a LOL moment for me.

  1. Stairway to Heaven—Led Zeppelin

From the “Lead Zeppelin IV” album: Released November 8, 1971

WROV DJs I Associated with Song:  Terry Young and Shane Randall 1973

Singles released from album: “Black Dog” and “Rock and Roll.”

Photo of my vinyl record: “Led Zeppelin IV” by Led Zeppelin

My number 1 selection on the countdown is “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, which is the signature song by the English band. WROV’s Terry Young played the song every night in 1973, when he was employed by the station.

Composed by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, “Stairway to Heaven” is considered by many as the best rock song of all-time.  This Led Zeppelin tune was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, voted as the third “Greatest Rock Song” by VH1, ranked #31 on the Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” listing and inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003.

Back cover of my “Led Zeppelin IV” vinyl record album.

Led Zeppelin didn’t release many singles during their career and their greatest song was only available as an album track during the 70s decade.   Without a doubt, “Stairway to Heaven” is the number 1 song played on WROV/Top 40 radio in the 70s and not released as a 45 RPM single.

Now that I have submitted my top ten 70s album tracks that weren’t released as singles, I am curious to find out your opinions of this topic.  What are your favorite songs on my countdown?

If you were living in the 70s and listened to Top 40 radio were any of the tunes listed above played on your home town station?  Or maybe a Top 40 outlet in your community played different album tracks than the songs that I documented in this article?

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts and comments below on what you consider to be the best album tracks that never were released as a 45 RPM record during the 70s.  I look forward reading your responses. Rock on!

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

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Artist Profiles, Broadcasting, Music, Radio, Retro Rock, Virginia Artists

Tommy Holcomb: Roanoke’s Marvelous Music Man

All photos on this message are courtesy of Tommy Holcomb.

If you have lived in central or southwestern Virginia over the past 50 plus years, chances are you have heard music written by Tommy Holcomb. The Roanoke, Virginia native has created hundreds of musical TV/radio commercials, which have been aired throughout Roanoke/Lynchburg media markets, as owner of Tommy Holcomb Productions.

Holcomb musical talent is much more than just creating ads for clients. He is also a founding member of two successful Roanoke pop/rock/folk bands during the 60s, 70s and 80s: The Vikings and Woodsmoke.  Holcomb’s journey creating music is renowned among those associated with history of the rich Roanoke music scene.

Tommy Holcomb performing in Atlanta, Georgia 1975
When Glen Campbell came to Roanoke. From left: Tommy Holcomb, Rita Matthews, Glen Campbell, Nancy Holcomb Fisher and Jack Fisher.

I had an opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Holcomb earlier this month, as we discussed a musical career spanning over 60 years. I have known Tommy since 1975.  We first met at WROV 1240 AM Roanoke, when Holcomb was delivering a commercial that he produced to the radio station where I was employed.

Vikings cover of Simon & Garfunkel song, “Keep the Customer Satisfied.”

Holcomb’s musical roots started the summer before his senior year at Patrick Henry High School in 1961. Tommy started a band named the Vikings, along with his fellow classmates Allen Nelms and Lane Craig.

The Vikings band as a trio. Sometime in early 60s.

After Nelms and Holcomb graduated from high school, the young adults left Roanoke to attend the University of Virginia (UVA). The Vikings occasionally played gigs together, when Nelms and Holcomb were in college at UVA between 1962 and 1966.

Vikings cover of Linda Ronstadt & Stone Poneys song, “Some of Shelly’s Blues.”

Upon graduation from college in 1966, Holcomb and Nelms returned to Roanoke and resurrected their Vikings band. One of the guys joining this new version of the band was the legendary WROV 1240 AM DJ Fred Frelantz.  Another prominent person that was added to the Vikings was Joy Ellis in 1969.

The Vikings Band in 1972.

For the next 7 years, the Vikings became the house band for the historic Coffee Pot Roadhouse restaurant and concert venue.  The band signed a recording contract with London records during 1967.

During the early 70s, Holcomb’s Vikings band recorded a couple of albums before the group broke up in 1975.  Forward to 1982, the Vikings came back together again and held a series of reunion concerts at Caesar’s Club in Roanoke. After the success of those shows, the band decided to resume performing live concerts.

Vikings band continued playing shows during the mid 80s, and the group changed their name to “Roanoke” when they signed a record contract in 1984.  The following year, two singles were released but received limit airplay locally on the biggest Top 40 station in the Roanoke Lynchburg market: K92 FM 92.3. Consequently, these songs did not chart nationally.

The Vikings band at Caesar’s Reunion 1982

The final ending for the band became reality in 1986, with the tragic, untimely death of group member Fred Frelantz.  For a complete history of the Vikings band, I am providing a link to an article that Holcomb wrote for the Roanoker Magazine in 2006, that is reprinted via the WROV History Online Website.

Fred Frelantz and the Vikings: Mr. Bojangles (Video produced after his death)
Woodsmoke band during mid 70s.
Medley of Woodsmoke songs.

The other band that Holcomb was associated with during the 70s is Woodsmoke. Along with Joy Ellis, the band was formed in 1975 and attracted a younger audience than patrons who came to attend Holcomb’s original Vikings band shows.

The Vikings performing at Festival in the Park concert, Downtown Roanoke.

While Holcomb is known for his singing and playing in Roanoke bands since the 60s, he is not just a one trick pony.  Equally as impressive is his creative talent writing music with Tommy Holcomb Productions.

Vikings cover of Kingston Trio song, “Scotch and Soda.”

In the field of advertising, Tommy has created hundreds of commercials featuring his musical genius. Before starting his own ad agency, Holcomb joined fellow Vikings band member Fred Frelantz, to work at Creative Advertising in Roanoke.

During his time at Creative, Holcomb wrote a musical jingle for Smartwear clothing store. Tommy enlisted his Vikings bandmates playing music and utilized Joy Ellis on vocals for the spot.

Smartwear music jingle ad 1971

Much to the surprise of Holcomb, his Smartwear commercial actually won a national ad agency award in 1971.  After his multiple success writing musical spots at Creative, Holcomb decided to launch out with his own ad agency.

Over the years, Holcomb has created many wonderful, catchy musical ads.  Below is a Roanoke jingle medley, a compilation of various musical ads that Holcomb has produced.

Roanoke Jingle Medley of Tommy Holcomb created musical ads.

Three years ago, Holcomb was honored by the Roanoke chapter of the American Advertising Federation (AAF), with its Silver Medal Award.  This AAF 2019 achievement recognized Tommy’s “outstanding lifetime contributions to advertising furthering the industry’s standards, creative excellence, and responsibility in areas of social concern.”

Tommy Holcomb doesn’t just write music for advertising.  He also has written songs about and for the city of Roanoke.

Vikings cover of Nilsson song, “Without You.”

Roanoke’s centennial happened in 1982 and Holcomb was commissioned by the Virginia City to write a song for the 100-year celebration. The composition is called “Roanoke Shining Through.” A YouTube video of this tune features paintings by Eric Fitzpatrick and photographs by Terry Aldhizer.

Another excellent tribute to Roanoke is a song written and performed by Holcomb called “Looking Back.”  Tommy fondly remembers living in the “Star City of the South” during younger years.

During 2011, Holcomb tried his hand in radio and hosted a show called Retro Roanoke Radio (RRR) on Sunny FM 93.5. The format of the weekly program had Holcomb playing 60s/70s oldies, talking about Roanoke in the 20th Century, airing musical spots he created and interviewing pop/rock artists.

Some of the artists that Holcomb interviewed on RRR were Davy Jones, Melanie, Petula Clark, Anne Murray and Robbin Thompson.

Compilation of Retro Roanoke Radio Interviews by Tommy Holcomb 2011.

For the past 15 years, Holcomb has been the Music Producer for the Miss Virginia Pageant. Seven years ago, Tommy wrote an orchestra score for one of Virginia’s official state songs: “Our Great Virginia” written by Mike Greenly. Miss Virginia contestants performed this arrangement during the 2015 pageant.

Woodsmoke band in the mid 70s.

An excellent podcast I want to recommend is episode 3 of the Larry Dowdy Mic Side podcast, where the retired popular Roanoke area DJ interviews Holcomb.  There is superb interchange of information provided by Dowdy and Holcomb with this Mic Side episode.

Last official Vikings photo prior to Fred Frelantz death.

It is clear to me that Holcomb exemplifies humility, as he has woven an awe-inspiring tapestry of living experiences within the area of music.

Vikings cover of Tanya Tucker song, “Delta Dawn.”

As I reflect upon Holcomb’s music legacy, he has enriched the lives of countless Roanoke residents with musical magic. For over 60 years, Holcomb has continued to share his music talent with folks all across the Roanoke Valley and Southwestern Virginia.

Without a doubt, Roanoke continues to be blessed, receiving wonderful gifts of harmonies and melodies by this marvelous music man:  Tommy Holcomb.

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1972: Outstanding One Hit Wonders

Photo above by Julianne Woodson

I am amazed by the popularity of one hit wonders, and how the topic brings back nostalgic memories for many folks. Three articles that I have written over the past couple of years, about 1969, 1970 and 1971 one hit wonders, are among my most viewed messages of all-time.

With this edition of my musical musings, I am concentrating on the best “one hit wonders” of 1972.  I will be counting down the top songs in this category from 50 years ago.

WROV Roanoke DJ Staff Summer 1972. Photo courtesy of WROV History Website/Pat Garrett

I have fond memories listening to Top 40 radio during 1972.  I turned 17 that year and lived in Roanoke County, Virginia. During daytime hours, I was a regular listener to a couple of local Top 40 AM radio stations:  WROV and WBLU.

My go to station was legendary WROV 1240 AM, which was the top-rated radio outlet in Roanoke. The WROV DJs that I remember during 1972 include Bart Prater, Larry Bly, Dan Alexander, Ron Tompkins, Phil Beckman and Charlie Bell. 

DJ Bart Prater WROV Roanoke: July 10, 1972

WBLU 1480 AM was the other Top 40 outlet in the Roanoke radio market. The only times that I listened to WBLU was traveling via school bus to and from Glenvar High School, and during an afternoon art class that I took during my junior year.

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

There were three main stations that I listened to during the nighttime:  WLS 890 AM Chicago, WCFL 1000 AM and WABC 770 AM New York. On the Big 89 WLS, I remember DJs John Records Landecker, Fred Winston, Chuck Buell and JJ Jeffries.  When tuning in WCFL, I would listen to Larry Lujack, Big Ron O’Brien and Bob Dearborn.  With WABC, I regularly heard Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow) and Dan Ingram.

WCFL Chicago Survey August 26, 1972. Courtesy of Pete Battistini: Author of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1970’s).


A Top 40 radio station that is memorable to me in 1972 was WAPE 690 AM Jacksonville.  My family was on vacation in Florida during July ’72 and I talked my parents into letting me visit the WAPE studios that was located in Orange Park. Since it was my dream to become a DJ once I graduated from high school, getting to visit the “Big APE” was extremely exciting for me.

 During my tour of WAPE, I got to meet music director and afternoon DJ Cleveland Wheeler, who gave me a quick look around the station. Then before leaving, Wheeler allowed me to view the “Big APE” main studio, where Larry Dixon was working his midday DJ shift.

 My visit to WAPE was influential in my pursuit to make radio a career. Less than two years later, I landed a job with WROV Roanoke in April 1974. I was thankful that I had the opportunity to tour the “Big APE” during the summer of 1972.

WAPE Jacksonville Survey February 16, 1972: Courtesy of Daniel McCarthy: Top 40 Radio Surveys Worldwide

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

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

  • No other songs from an artist ever peaking at number 40 or higher on the Billboard National Pop Chart. (Chart positions from number 40 to number 1).

  • One hit wonders vary from country to country. An artist may have just one hit in the United States but may have multiple hits in another country.

  • Regional hits are not taken into account: A second song must be a national hit and chart within the Billboard Top 40 pop survey.

  • Any songs peaking outside of the Top 40, are always excluded for consideration.

  • Songs that peak from numbers 41 through 100 on the national Billboard Hot 100 pop chart are never considered as second hits.

All documentation of chart positions I share below in this article comes from The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn.  I proudly own a hard copy of this excellent reference manual, which I consider to be the ‘bible” handbook for music history with Top 40 radio.

When I started researching the topic of 1972 one hit wonders, I found some interesting data. There happened to be no artists with only one hit, among the 20 biggest songs from 50 years ago. Below are the top records for 1972, according to Billboard magazine:

1          “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”            Roberta Flack

2          “Alone Again (Naturally)”       Gilbert O’Sullivan

3          “American Pie”           Don McLean

4          “Without You”               Nilsson

5          “The Candy Man”       Sammy Davis Jr.

6          “I Gotcha”       Joe Tex

7          “Lean on Me”  Bill Withers

8          “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me”      Mac Davis

9          “Brand New Key”        Melanie

10        “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast”        Wayne Newton

11        “Let’s Stay Together”  Al Green

12        “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)”  Looking Glass

13        “Oh Girl”         The Chi-Lites

14        “Nice to Be with You” Gallery

15        “My Ding-a-Ling”        Chuck Berry

16        “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right”  Luther Ingram

17        “Heart of Gold”           Neil Young

18        “Betcha by Golly, Wow”         The Stylistics

19        “I’ll Take You There”   The Staple Singers

20        “Ben”   Michael Jackson

Before I start sharing my 1972 one hit wonders countdown, I need to correct inaccurate information on the topic.  Some Internet sites erroneously give 1972 one hit wonder status to songs and artists with multiple Top 40 hits. Clearly, the two singles listed below ARE NOT 1972 ONE HIT WONDERS:

  1. Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)—Looking Glass 

One of my all-time favorite epic story songs from the 70s is actually a two-hit wonder. During the summer of 1972, “Brandy” was a number 1 song.   Looking Glass had a follow up hit in 1973 with “Jimmy Loves Mary Ann” which peaked at number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100. If “Brandy” had truly been the only hit for Looking Glass, it would have made #1 on my 1972 one hit wonder countdown.

  • Layla—Derek & the Dominoes

It is absurd to place Eric Clapton as a one hit wonder. Clapton is the writer, singer and lead guitarist for the song “Layla” which was recorded under his band’s name of Derek & the Dominoes. The only 3-time member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, had 16 Top 40 solo hits, including covering his song “Layla” in 1993. The legendary guitarist also charted multiple top 40 hits, as a member of Cream and the Yardbirds. Absolutely, Eric Clapton is NOT a one hit wonder.

As I surveyed all true one hit wonders from 1972, I found 13 high quality singles that are on my countdown. These are songs that I deem to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant. Ahead of my countdown beginning, I want to share some extra songs that didn’t make my Baker’s Dozen listing.

Amazing Grace by Royal Scots Dragoon Guards peaked at #11 on Billboard Hot 100 in 1972

Novelty records that were one hit wonders in 1972:  

•          Jungle Fever—The Chakachas

•          How Do You Do—Mouth and Macneal

•          The Delegates—Convention 72

Six-extra ’72 one hit wonders. These selections are all quality songs, that fell just outside of my Baker’s Dozen countdown:

  • White Lies Blue Eyes—Bullet
  • Small Beginnings—Flash
  • Easy Livin’—Uriah Heap
  • Run Run Run—Jo Jo Gunne
  • Hallelujah—Sweathog
  • Suavecito—Malo

Without further ado, here are what I consider to be the 13 best one hit wonders from 1972. My Baker’s Dozen countdown starts now:

13. Hot Rod Lincoln—Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen

Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100: #9, 69th Biggest Hit of 1972

Novelty tune. Commander Cody’s band combines country, rock, pop and western swing genres of music. Lyrics describe illegal auto racing in California.

12. Popcorn—Hot Butter

Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100: #9, 28th Biggest Hit of 1972

First of two instrumental tunes on the countdown. Music composed by Gershon Kingsley.  Conductor Stan Free utilizes a Moog synthesizer on this song.

11. Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues—Danny O’Keefe

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #5 Adult Contemporary #9 Hot 100 in 1972

Folk singer-songwriter from Spokane, Washington. Danny O’Keefe has written hundreds of songs recorded by other artists: most prominent include Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Jackson Browne and Glen Campbell.

10. Motorcycle Mama—Sailcat

Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100: #12, 89th Biggest Hit of 1972

Southern rock band from Alabama. Song written by Sailcat member John Wyker. The group decided to break up in 1973, after “Motorcycle Mama” was their only Billboard Hot 100 chart success.

9.   Day by Day—Godspell

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #8 Easy Listening, #13 Hot 100 in 1972

Cast from the Off-Broadway musical Godspell, are featured on this folk-rock ballad. Parables from the biblical book of Matthew provide lyrical content for this successful anthem.

8.   Beautiful Sunday—Daniel Boone

Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 #15, 42nd Biggest Song of 1972

English pop musician. Daniel Boone named “Most Likable Singer” by Rolling Stone magazine in 1972. According to Wikipedia, “Beautiful Sunday” is the biggest selling single by an international artist in modern Japanese musical history.

7.   Thunder and Lighting—Chi Coltrane

Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 #17, Cash Box #15, Record World #12

Pianist, singer-songwriter with rock and gospel music genres. American Chi Coltrane was known as “The First Lady of Rock” in the United States and the “Queen of Rock” throughout Europe during the 70s.

6.   Sunshine—Jonathan Edwards.

Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 #4, 37th Biggest Song of 1972

Country folk-rock song.  Jonathan Edwards was born in Aitkin, Minnesota. Opened up tours for the Allman Brothers Band and B.B. King after “Sunshine” became a hit tune.

5.   Joy—Apollo 100

Peak Positions on Billboard Hot 100 #6, 71st Biggest Song of 1972

The second instrumental song on the countdown.  “Joy” It is an up tempo contemporary rendition of a 1723 composition by Johann Sebastian Bach called “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”

4.   Precious and Few—Climax

Peak Position of Billboard Hot 100 #3, 30th Biggest Song of 1972

Soft rock band from Los Angeles, California. Lead singer of Climax was Sonny Geraci, who also provided lead vocals on the song “Time Won’t Let Me” from his former band the Outsiders during 1966.

3.   Bang a Gong (Get It On)—T. Rex

Peak Position of Billboard Hot 100 #10, 56th Biggest Song of 1972

Originally named Tyrannosaurus Rex, the English glam rock band shorten their name to T. Rex in 1969. Song written by front man Marc Bolan. Among one of the best glitter rock singles from the 70s.

2.   The City of New Orleans—Arlo Guthrie.

Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 #18, 45th Biggest Song of Year

Late singer-songwriter Steve Goodman portrays a train ride from Chicago to New Orleans on the Illinois Central Railroad and their legendary “City of New Orleans” rail line.  The song was written in 1971, after Amtrak took over servicing the famous railroad route from Illinois Central. Arlo Guthrie’s biggest Top 40 hit.

  1. Hold Your head up—Argent

Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 #5, 50th Biggest Song of 1972.

As a founding member of the Zombies, Ron Argent was keyboardist and a chief song-writer for his British rock band.  He penned 3 of the Zombies biggest hits:  “She’s Not There”, “Tell Her No” & “Time of the Season.”  

In 1969, Ron Argent left the Zombies and formed a new rock band, named after himself:  Argent. Three years later, the band released the album “All Together Now” which featured Argent’s only song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100: “Hold Your Head Up.”

Here is what legendary keyboardist Rick Wakeman proclaims in a Louder Sound Dot COM quote: “Rod (Argent) is a good friend, and I’m not just picking people because they’re my mates, I’m picking this because it’s brilliant. The organ solo in “Hold Your Head Up” is, for me, one of the finest organ solos on a record. It’s brilliantly put together, and from an era where you couldn’t go back and correct notes and redo things. It’s a true solo. A little work of art, so it has to go in. It’s just brilliant, so good.”

The first time that I heard Argent’s song was via radio, on WAPE Jacksonville and the Big APE played it multiple times the week I was on vacation in Florida (July ’72).   I loved the song when it was a hit and still have fondness for the tune nearly 50 years later.  Without a doubt, my top number 1 outstanding one hit wonder from 1972 is “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent.

Now that I have humbly submitted my countdown of 1972 one hit wonders, I am curious to find out your opinion on this topic. Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique.  The songs that you feel are the best may be completely different from my selections.

 What do you consider to be the best one hit wonders from 1972?  There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.

I leave you with lyrics from a 1972 Mac Davis authored song, “I Believe in Music” that pop rock band Gallery covered during 1972: “Music is the universal language, and love is the key, to peace hope and understanding, and living in harmony.”   Rock on!

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

Supreme Disco Hits of the 70s

Photo above by Julianne Woodson

Over the years, I have had many conversations about 70s disco music with friends or acquaintances. At some point during those types of musical discussions, I will ask the question: “What do you consider to be the best Top 40 disco hits of the 70s decade?”

Responses to my inquiries about the greatest disco hits will vary but many folks will choose multiple songs by the same artist, when selecting their favorite 70s disco tunes.

While there isn’t anything wrong with picking multiple songs from the same artist in a listing of the best disco songs from the 70s, I am choosing different methodology in coming up with my own compilation of superior disco singles.

Eagles had a number 1 hit in 1975 with “One of These Nights” which features a disco beat.

For this music blog message, I will be counting down what I consider to be the 20 best disco singles by 20 different artists. Here are the rules and criteria that I have set forth for this musical exercise:

  •  Each artist, group, band or singer will have just one song listed on the top 20 countdown.
  • All selections were hits on Top 40 radio and charted at number 20 or lower on the Billboard Hot 100.
  • I deem each of my selections to be culturally, historically, aesthetically significant, meaningful or relevant.
  • Song charted nationally on Billboard Hot 100 between 1975 and 1979.
Kiss had a top 10 disco hit in the summer of 1979 with “I Was Made for Lovin’ You.”

The term “disco” is shorthand for the word discothèque, a French word for “library of phonograph records.”

Please note that I will not be giving a complete history of disco music with this message. For those who long for more information, there are multiple books, articles and links via the Internet on this topic.

Electric Light Orchestra reached #8 on Billboard Hot 100 in 1979 with “Shine a Little Love.”

Genesis of disco music wasn’t instantaneous but evolved during the first years of the 70s.

Below is a partial listing of Top 40 hits that were precursors to the formation of disco between 1971 and 1973.

  • Theme from Shaft—Isaac Hayes
  • Funky Nassau—The Beginning of the End
  • Rock Steady—Aretha Franklin
  • Jungle Fever—Chakachas
  • Soul Makossa—Manu Dibango
  • Superfly—Curtis Mayfield
  • Papa Was a Rolling Stone—The Temptations
  • Masterpiece—The Temptations
  • Love Train—The O’Jays
  • The Love I Lost—Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes

During the first few months of 1974, a couple of proto-disco songs became hits on top 40 radio. Both tunes reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100:

  • Love’s Theme—The Love Unlimited Orchestra (Barry White)

  • TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)—MFSB and the Three Degrees

During April 1974, I landed my first job in radio, working for Top 40 WROV Roanoke (1240 AM). For the next 18 months, I witnessed firsthand the tremendous growth of disco music at Roanoke’s top rated Top 40 outlet.

Dave Woodson playing records at Top 40 WROV Roanoke remote broadcast. Discount Records Tanglewood Mall.

One of the most popular songs that I played during the summer of 1974 on WROV is “Rock the Boat” by the Hues Corporation. This up-tempo classic R&B/Soul tune was number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and is considered by some music historians as the earliest disco song to be a mainstream hit.

Another landmark recording of disco music from the summer of 1974 is “Rock Your Baby” by George McCrae.  Co-written and produced by Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch of KC & the Sunshine Band, the song sold over 11 million copies worldwide.

Other Top 40 disco hits in 1974:

  • Never Can Say Goodbye—Gloria Gaynor
  • You’re the First, The Last, My Everything—Barry White
  • When Will I See You Again—Three Degrees
  • Kung Fu Fighting—Carl Douglas

It was during the summer of 1975 that I realized that disco music was going to be huge, when “The Hustle” by Van McCoy was the number 1 song in Roanoke and nationally on the Billboard Hot 100.

My radio station WROV had a remote broadcast at the Kings Inn, a nightclub on Salem Avenue in downtown Roanoke.  I was engineer for this 3-hour remote and spun 45-rpm singles, which included all of the top 10 songs from the WROV playlist.

When I played Van McCoy’s number 1 hit during the first 15 minutes on the Kings Inn remote, just about every patron at the nightclub went on the dance floor to “do the hustle.” Because of the overwhelming positive response when I played the disco hit, Kings Inn management requested that I spin “The Hustle” a few more times before the remote was scheduled to end.

After I consulted with my fellow WROV staff members, I broke the station’s format and played “The Hustle” two other times that evening.  Close to 100 percent of everyone in the building danced on my second and third plays of Van McCoy’s hit.  Needless to say, disco music was alive and well in Roanoke that night at the Kings Inn.

The Royal Kings were the house band for Roanoke’s 70s premier nightclub, the Kings Inn. Photo is a scan from a Roanoke Times newspaper article, provided to me by band member Larry Wheeling, who is pictured above.

Other Top 40 disco hits in 1975:

  • Pick Up the Pieces—Average White Band
  • Lady Marmalade—LaBelle
  • Express—BT Express
  • That’s the Way (I Like It)—KC & the Sunshine Band
  • Fly, Robin, Fly—Silver Convention
  • Jive Talkin’—The Bees Gees

My time playing disco records ended in November 1975 as I accepted a full-time radio job with AM/FM combo WRIS 1410 and WJLM 93.5 Roanoke.  However, I still tracked the genre of music listening to various Top 40 stations including WROV, WLS Chicago and WABC New York.

Before I reveal my countdown of supreme disco hits, I am sharing ten songs that I considered for the Top 20 but didn’t make the cut.  These selections are listed in random order with no repeat artists:

  • Disco Inferno—The Tramps
  • Car Wash—Rose Royce
  • Miss You—Rolling Stones
  • Don’t Leave Me this Way—Thelma Houston
  • I Love the Nightlife—Alicia Bridges

  • Knock on Wood—Amii Stewart
  • Who Loves You—The Four Seasons
  • Turn the Beat Around—Vickie Sue Robinson
  • Ain’t No Stopping Us Now—McFadden & Whitehead
  • Ring My Bell—Anita Ward

All documentation of chart positions I share below, comes from The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits by Joel Whitburn.  I proudly own a hard copy of this excellent reference manual, which I consider to be the “bible” handbook for music history with Top 40 radio.

I now present what I consider to be the top 20 best disco songs from the 70s. As Casey Kasem used to say on his American Top 40 show, “Now on with the countdown.”

20.  Best of My Love—The Emotions (1977)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 3rd Biggest Song of 1977

Written by Maurice White and Al McKay of Earth Wind & Fire.  Won Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance. Billboard proclaims “Best of My Love” at number 1 on the “Top 40 Biggest Girl Group Songs of All Time” list.

19.  More, More, More—Andrea True Connection (1976)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Hot 100, 17th Biggest Song of 1976

Signature song for Andrea True. International hit. Excellent horn section on tune. Canadian alternative rock duo Len sampled “More, More, More” on their 1999 hit “Steal My Sunshine.”

18.  Got to Give it Up—Marvin Gaye (1977)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 20th Biggest Song of 1977

Marvin Gaye’s first recording of disco. Falsetto vocals. Outstanding percussion instrumentation with R&B/Funk guitar riffs. Worldwide smash. Number 1 song on 3 Billboard charts.

17.  Love Hangover—Diana Ross (1976)

Peak Positions on Billboard Hot 100: #1 Hot 100, 15th Biggest Song of 1976

Superb bass line. Tempo of song starts as ballad, changes to fast groove. Motown’s first disco hit.  Fourth Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hit for Diana Ross as a solo artist.

16.  Boogie Nights—Heat Wave (1977)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100, 93rd Biggest Song of 1977

Funk/Disco international band. Two members from United States, three from European Countries and one Jamaican. “Always and Forever” and “The Groove Line” were two other smash tunes by Heat Wave.

15.  Dancing Queen—ABBA (1977)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 12th Biggest Song of 1977

ABBA’s most recognizable and popular song. Inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015. Melodic tune and excellent vocal harmonies by Swedish quartet. Reached number 1 in 14 countries around the world.

14.  Lowdown—Boz Scaggs (1976)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #3 Hot 100, 49th Biggest Song of 1976

Co-written by Boz Scaggs and David Paich. Song is categorized in multiple musical genres. R&B, Disco, Jazz and Yacht Rock. Won a Grammy Award for best R&B song.

13.  Got to Be Real—Cheryl Lynn (1979)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #12 Hot 100, 69th Biggest Song of 1979

Considered a one hit wonder. Cheryl Lynn was former gospel singer. Discovered on the Gong Show in 1976. Song inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

12.  Ladies Night—Kool & the Gang (1979)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #8 Hot 100, 35th Biggest Song of 1979

American Funk/R&B band. First of 3 top 10 hits for group during 1979/1980. An anthem for disco bars and nightclubs. Promoting female patrons to venues all across America.

11.  We Are Family—Sister Sledge (1979)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100, 53rd Biggest Song of 1979

Siblings Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy Sledge from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lyrics express family solidarity. Signature song and biggest hit for Sister Sledge.  Selected by the National Recording Registry/Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant” in 2017.

10.  Shake Your Groove Thing—Peaches & Herb (1979)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #5 Hot 100, 31st Biggest Song of 1979

A reformed Peaches & Herb duo formed in the 70s with new singer Linda Greene joining founding member Herb Fame. “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “Reunited” were mega hits for the R&B/disco pair during 1979.

9.    Shame—Evelyn “Champagne” King (1978)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #9 Hot 100, 64th Biggest Song of 1978

 Singer born in The Bronx, New York City. Evelyn King had four Top 40 hits. None bigger than “Shame.” Song features excellent saxophone section and superb bass line. R&B/Funk smash single.

8.    Get Down Tonight—KC & the Sunshine Band (1975)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 64th Biggest Song of 1975

The first of 5 number 1 hits on Billboard Hot 100 for South Florida band. Fast tempo. Excellent guitar solo.  Superb mixture of R&B, funk and disco.

7.    I Will Survive—Gloria Gaynor

Peak positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 6th Biggest Song of 1979

Lyrics have become an anthem for female empowerment. Inducted into Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2016.  “I Will Survive” received a Grammy Award for “Best Disco Recording.”

6.    Good Times—Chic (1979)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 20th Biggest Song of 1979

Written by Chic band members Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers. Song has legendary bass line riff and is one of the most sampled tunes in music history. 

Backing track from “Good Times” was used on the first Top 40 hip-hop hit, “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang.  Comes in at number 68 on Rolling Stone “Greatest Songs of All Time” list.

5.    Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough—Michael Jackson (1979)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 91st Biggest Song of 1979

Produced by Quincy Jones and written by Michael Jackson.  It was the biggest solo hit of the 70s by the “King of Pop.”  Musically, it features a six-piece horn ensemble of saxophones, trumpets and trombone.  A sterling string section also adds to the rich sound on this tune.

“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” was a world-wide hit, and helped pave the way for Jackson’s superstar status during the 80s.  The singer received a Grammy Award for “Male R&B Vocal Performance” with this popular disco smash.

4.    Heart of Glass—Blondie (1979)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 18th Biggest Song of 1979

 Brilliant “New Wave” meets “Disco” mix by New York rock band. Magnificent combination of synthesizers, drum machine and guitar. Blondie’s singer Debbie Harry shines on vocals.

“Heart of Glass” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015. It was the first of 4 number 1 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 for the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band.

3.    September—Earth Wind & Fire (1979)

Peak Positions of Billboard Charts: #8 Hot 100, 78th Biggest Song of 1979

“September” is a quintessential song with multiple genres of music:  R&B, Soul, Funk, Jazz, Disco and Yacht Rock.  Upbeat, feel-good groove. Philip Bailey and Maurice White share lead vocals on this successful song.

Highlighted by transcendent saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar and keyboards. Earth Wind & Fire’s most beloved song, was added to Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry list of sound recordings in 2018. 

2.    Stayin’ Alive—The Bee Gees (1978)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts:  #1 Hot 100, 4th Biggest Song of 1978

Coming in second on the countdown is my selection by the Bee Gees. Written by brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, biggest song from the “Saturday Night Fever” motion picture soundtrack. Great guitar hook with a pulsating beat.

“Stayin’” Alive” is one of the most iconic disco songs from the 70s. Rolling Stone ranks it at number 99 on their “Greatest Songs of All Time” listing. Placed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. This signature song from the Bees Gees, is my second-best disco single of the 70s.

  1. I Feel Love—Donna Summer (1977)

Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #6 Hot 100, 96th Biggest Song of 1977

When I think of the greatest disco artist from the 70s, there is only one person who fits that bill: Donna Summer.  The “Queen of Disco” was one of the leading female vocalists during the disco era of music and then extending into the early 80s.

“I Feel Love” is one of the most influential songs of the 20th century.  Music historians believe that the 1977 disco hit, had a major impact in the development of electronic dance music (EDM).  Many who chronicle music history, consider the Donna Summer single to be the first ever recorded EDM song.

Summer’s ground breaking song also had a significant impact with other genres of music, such as New Wave, Punk Rock, Synth-Pop, House, and Disco, during the late 70s, early 80s and beyond. 

Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte produced and co-wrote “I Feel Love” along with Donna Summer.  The use of a Moog synthesizer, with a repetitive beat, gives the tune a hypnotic, rhythmic feel, that was popular on disco dance floors all across America.

Without a doubt, I proclaim that “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer is the most supreme disco hit from the 70s.

After I finished compiling information for the 20 songs listed above, I realized an interesting fact. Over the past 5 years, I have regularly played many of these songs at wedding receptions, class reunions and other similar events where I am hired for DJ gigs.  My 20 selected disco tunes are still popular with those who want to dance.

Now that I have humbly submitted my countdown of the top 20 supreme disco songs of the 70s, I am curious to find out your opinion on this topic. Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique on what I consider to be the best disco songs. The songs that you feel are the best may be completely different from my selections.

I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the best disco songs from the 70s? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.

If you are a fan of 70s disco music, I welcome your comments below.  I leave you with these lyrics by Alicia Bridges and Susan Hutcheson: “I love the nightlife, I got to boogie on the disco ’round.” Disco on!

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

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

Photo above by Julianne Woodson

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

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

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

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

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

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

* “Video Killed the Radio Star” The Buggles

       *   “You Better Run” Pat Benatar

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

       *   “You Better You Bet” The Who

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

       *   “We Don’t Talk Anymore” Cliff Richard

       *   “Brass in Pocket” The Pretenders

       *    “Time Heals” Todd Rundgren

       *    “Take It on the Run” REO Speedwagon

       *    “Rockin’ the Paradise” Styx

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

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

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

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

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

1          “Bette Davis Eyes”      Kim Carnes

2          “Endless Love” Diana Ross & Lionel Richie

3          “Lady” Kenny Rogers

4          “(Just Like) Starting Over”      John Lennon

5          “Jessie’s Girl”  Rick Springfield

6          “Celebration”  Kool & the Gang

7          “Kiss on My List”         Hall & Oates

8          “I Love a Rainy Night” Eddie Rabbitt

9          “9 To 5”           Dolly Parton

10        “Keep on Loving You” REO Speedwagon

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

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

1          “Physical”        Olivia Newton-John

2          “Eye of the Tiger”       Survivor

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

4          “Ebony and Ivory”       Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder

5          “Centerfold”    The J. Geils Band

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

7          “Jack & Diane” John Cougar

8          “Hurts So Good”         John Cougar

9          “Abracadabra” Steve Miller Band

10        “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”           Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

20.  Don’t Stop Believin’—Journey

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

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

19.  Leader of the Band—Dan Fogelberg

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

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

18.  Waiting for a Girl Like You—Foreigner

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

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

17.  The Night Owls—The Little River Band

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

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

16.  Who’s Crying Now—Journey

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

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

15.  Heat of the Moment—Asia

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

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

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

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

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

13.  Empty Garden—Elton John

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

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

12.  The Voice—The Moody Blues

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

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

11.  Young Turks—Rod Stewart

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

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

10.  Fire and Ice—Pat Benatar

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

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

9.    Shake It Up—The Cars

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

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

8.    Chariots of Fire—Vangelis

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

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

7.    Edge of Seventeen—Stevie Nicks

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

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

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

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

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

5.    867-5309/Jenny—Tommy Tutone

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

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

4.    Run for the Roses—Dan Fogelberg

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

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

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

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

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

2.    Our Lips Are Sealed—The Go-Gos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

Best Sunshine Pop Singles of the 60s

Photo above by Julianne Woodson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peaked at #9 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

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

Peaked at # 5 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

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

23.  Grazing in the Grass—The Friends of Distinction

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100: 1969

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

22.  Green Grass—Gary Lewis & the Playboys

Peaked at #8 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

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

21.  Good Morning Starshine—Oliver

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100: 1969

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

20.  Kind of a Drag—The Buckinghams

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

19.  Up–Up & Away—The 5th Dimension

Peaked at #7 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

18.  Windy—The Association

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

17.  Monday Monday—The Mamas & the Papas

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

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

16.   Good Vibrations—The Beach Boys

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

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

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

Peaked at #13 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

14.  Lazy Day—Spanky & Our Gang

Peaked at #14 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

13.  Incense & Peppermint—Strawberry Alarm Clock

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

12.  Groovin’—The Young Rascals

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

11.  Cherish—The Association

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

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

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

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1969

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

9.   Summer in the City—Lovin’ Spoonful

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

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

8.  Happy Together—The Turtles

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

7.  Daydream Believer—The Monkees

Peaked at #1 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

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

Peaked at #2 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

5.  Never My Love—The Association

Peaked at #2 Billboard Hot 100: 1967

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

4.   A Beautiful Morning—The Rascals

Peaked at #3 Billboard Hot 100: 1968

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

3. California Dreamin’—The Mamas & the Papas

Peaked at #4 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

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

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

Peaked at #9 Billboard Hot 100: 1965

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

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

Peaked at #8 Billboard Hot 100: 1966

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

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

Now that I have humbly submitted my thoughts on the best Sunshine Pop singles from the 60s, I am curious to find out your opinion on the music from that year.

Obviously, I do not want to come across as authoritative with my critique of Sunshine Pop. The songs that you might feel are the best, may be completely different from my selections.

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

Album cover of Chartbusters USA Special Edition: Sunshine Pop

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

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Broadcasting, Music, Podcasts, Radio, Retro Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 In addition, Larry Dowdy’s Mic Side podcast was also started during the same time period. Debut of Mic Side occurred August 20 while Two Larry’s and a Mic maiden voyage happened August 25. Here is the link that came out on May 19, 2022, where I am the featured guest on a Mic Side episode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

1969: Best One Hit Wonders

Photo Above by Julianne Woodson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • No other songs from an artist ever peaking at number 40 or higher on the Billboard National Pop Chart. (Chart positions from number 40 to number 1).
  • One hit wonders vary from country to country. An artist may have just one hit in the United States but may have multiple hits in another country.
  • Regional hits are not taken into account: A second song must be a national hit and chart within the Billboard Top 40 pop survey.
  • Any songs peaking outside of the Top 40, are always excluded for consideration.
  • Songs that peak from numbers 41 through 100 on the national Billboard Hot 100 pop chart are never considered as second hits.

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

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

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

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

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

1          “Sugar, Sugar” The Archies

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

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

4          “Honky Tonk Women”  The Rolling Stones

5          “Everyday People”  Sly and the Family Stone

6          “Dizzy” Tommy Roe

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

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

9          “Build Me Up Buttercup”  The Foundations

10        “Crimson and Clover” Tommy James and the Shondells

11        “One”  Three Dog Night

12        “Crystal Blue Persuasion”  Tommy James and the Shondells

13        “Hair”  The Cowsills

14        “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” Marvin Gaye

15        “Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet”  Henry Mancini

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

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

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

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

25.  Jesus is a Soul Man—Lawrence Reynolds

Peak Position on the Billboard Hot 100:  #28

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

24.  Morning Girl—The Neon Philharmonic

Peak Position on the Billboard Hot 100: #17

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

23.  Sugar on Sunday—The Clique

Peak Position on the Billboard Hot 100:  #22

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

22.  In the Year 2525—Zager & Evans

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

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

21.  Israelites—Desmond Dekker & the Aces

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:  #9 Hot 100

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

20.  Tracy—The Cuff Links

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

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

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

Peak Position on Billboard Chart   #21 Hot 100

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

18.  Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’—Crazy Elephant

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

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

17.  When I Die—Motherlode

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

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

16.  You, I—The Rugbys

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:  #24 Hot 100

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

15.  Baby It’s You—Smith

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

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

14.  Did You See Her Eyes—The Illusion

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:   #32 Hot 100

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

13.  Birthday—Underground Sunshine

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:  #26 Hot 100

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

12.  Hot Smoke & Sassafras—The Bubble Puppy

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

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

11.  My Pledge of Love—Joe Jeffrey Group

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

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

10.  Color Him Father—The Winstons

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

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

9.    More Today Than Yesterday—Spiral Starecase

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

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

8.    The Worst That Could Happen—The Brooklyn Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

6.    Polk Salad Annie—Tony Joe White

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

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

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

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

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

4.    Love (Can Make You Happy)—Mercy

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

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

3.    Get Together—The Youngbloods

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

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

2.    I Got a Line on You—Spirit

Peak Position on Billboard Charts:  #25 Hot 100

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

  1. Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye—Steam

Peak Position on Billboard Chart:  #1 Hot 100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am asking for your opinion: What do you consider to be the best “one hit wonders” of 52 years ago? There are no right or wrong answers. I welcome your thoughts.

Listening to music from the golden age of Top 40 radio will always have a special place in my heart.  I cherish and fondly remember my favorite “one hit wonders” of 1969.  Rock on!

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Broadcasting, Music, Music Countdowns, Radio, Retro Rock

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

Photo above by Julianne Woodson

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

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

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

In 2016, pop music critic Brian McCollum of the Detroit Free Press, published a Top 10 listing of Motown best songs from Motown’s Detroit era (1959-1972), as selected by the newspaper and its readers to commemorate the label’s 55th anniversary.

1. “What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye

2. “Dancing in the Street,” Martha and the Vandellas

3. “My Girl,” the Temptations

4. “The Tracks of My Tears,” the Miracles

5. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

6. “Stop! In the Name of Love,” the Supremes

7. “Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours,” Stevie Wonder

8. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye

9. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” Gladys Knight & the Pips

10. “War,” Edwin Starr

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

Another Top 10 listing of greatest Motown songs of all-time is from Digital Dream Door Dot COM below:

  1. I Heard It Through the Grapevine–Marvin Gaye

2. My Girl–The Temptations

3. Reach Out I’ll Be There–The Four Tops

4. Where Did Our Love Go?–The Supremes

5. What’s Going On–Marvin Gaye

6. Dancing in the Street–Martha & the Vandellas

7. I Want You Back–Jackson 5

8. Superstition–Stevie Wonder

9. Please Mr. Postman–Marvelettes

10. My Guy–Mary Wells

While there isn’t anything wrong with either of the above lists, I prefer that a Top 10 best Motown songs of all-time listing be more inclusive, listing ten different artists, instead of being dominated by a single artist such as Marvin Gaye.

What do I consider to be the best Motown songs from the early days?  You probably have guessed already that I have come up with my own listing of greatest Motown singles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20.  Please Mr. Postman—The Marvelettes  1961

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

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

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

19.  My Guy—Mary Wells. 1964

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

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

18.  It’s a Shame—The Spinners. 1970

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

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

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

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

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

16.  War—Edwin Starr. 1970

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13.  Smiling Faces Sometimes—The Undisputed Truth. 1971

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.     Bernadette—The Four Tops. 1967

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1971 was a troublesome time in America.  Marvin Gaye’s socially conscious song “What’s Going On” accurately captured the pulse of turmoil that prevailed in our country.  The message was relevant 50 years ago. Unfortunately, the issues of this song still hold true in 2021. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.     My Girl—The Temptations  1965

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Music is a world within itself

With a language we all understand

With an equal opportunity

For all to sing, dance and clap their hands

Music knows that it is and always will

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

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