Love Means What?

Forty-one years ago this week, a sweet little ditty occupied the No. 45 spot on the Billboard Hot 100: “Love Means (You Never Have To Say You’re Sorry)” by the Sounds of Sunshine. The Sounds of Sunshine were actually three brothers from the Los Angeles area – Walt, Warner and George Wilder – and the sound they offered on their only hit record owed a lot to the Lettermen and the Sandpipers (and probably a few other vocal groups that don’t come to mind at the moment).

For a one-shot hit, the record did pretty well, peaking at No. 39 in the Hot 100 and at No. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart. The album from which the single was pulled got to No. 187 on the Billboard 200.

The source of the song – written by Warner Wilder – is, of course, the most famous line from the movie Love Story, a 1970 film “about a girl who died” co-starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. Here’s the scene in which the impossibly young McGraw delivers that line:

The line became the 1970s equivalent of a meme: It was impossible to avoid and to ignore. The same was true of the movie’s theme, of course (“Where do I begin . . .”). The theme made the Hot 100 in versions by Andy Williams, Henry Mancini, Tony Bennett, the duo of Nino Tempo and April Stevens and its composer, Francis Lai. It was a pretty tune, very hummable and generally inconsequential. The famous line of dialogue offered by McGraw (and originated by Erich Segal, who wrote the screenplay and the novel on which the film is based) is, however, bullshit.

Now, pop culture offers all sorts of twaddle to its audiences as wisdom. Listeners, viewers and readers can, if they are so moved, pull epigrams or advice on living well from almost any bit of pop culture ephemera. (Well, “Disco Duck” might be a stretch.) And if those epigrams help those pop culture consumers make their ways through the crabgrass of life, that’s just fine.

But I think that a large swath of the Baby Boomer demographic closed Segal’s book or walked up the theater aisle during the closing credits of the movie with the thought circling through their minds that maybe love really does mean never having to say you’re sorry. I wonder how many college relationships foundered because one or the other of the individuals involved held to the wisdom of Segal and McGraw during a disagreement when a simple “I’m sorry” would have repaired a lot of damage.

Well, maybe not all that many. I don’t know. I’m sure there were those who thought “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” was a sweetly romantic idea, but I’d also like to think that most of those folks realized that what works in the movies rarely works in real life. For my part, I was not all that experienced in what worked in love at the time, but even at seventeen, I knew that a philosophy of no apologies would be more nearly lethal than nurturing to a romantic coupling.

Ah, well, it’s a line from a movie that inspired Warner Wilder to write a pretty song. If we dismissed all the songs based on bullshit, then the pop charts would be a lot shorter and not nearly as much fun.

So what else was going on in the Hot 100 during the week that the Sounds of Sunshine saw their single sitting at No. 45? Here’s the Top Ten:

“It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move” by Carole King
“Indian Reservation” by the Raiders
“You’ve Got A Friend” by James Taylor
“Don’t Pull Your Love” by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds
“Treat Her Like A Lady” by the Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose
“Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight
“Rainy Days & Mondays” by the Carpenters
“Draggin’ The Line” by Tommy James
“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees
“That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” by Carly Simon

The only one of those I would wince at as it came out of the speakers today would be the Bee Gees’ record; I didn’t like it that much when it came out, either (and I would have guessed its time in the Top Ten to be much closer to February 1972 than the summer of 1971). I’ve written about “It’s Too Late” and “Treat Her Like A Lady” before (and they both popped up this week on the little mp3 player that holds the Ultimate Jukebox), but there are three other records here I like nearly as well: “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” “Don’t Pull Your Love” and “Draggin’ The Line,” and my regard for that last record is a surprise to me. It must be the purple flowers.

I found a few other surprises looking further down in the Billboard Hot 100 from July 17, 1971. We’ll jump off from No. 45, where we found the Sounds of Sunshine’s single, and drop down from there.

Finding an Elvis Presley record I’ve never heard before isn’t all that startling. My Elvis listening has focused mostly on the work at Sun Records in the 1950s and in Memphis in 1969 (with a little bit of digging into a few of the soundtracks from the early 1960s). So until this morning, I’d never heard “I’m Leavin’,” which was sitting at No 59 during this week in 1971. It’s a record with a different (some might say “odd”) sound to it; the original poster at YouTube had some comments about that. “I’m Leavin’” was heading to a peak at No. 36 and a surprising (to me, anyway) peak of No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

Someday, I’m going to burn myself a CD of covers of Gordon Lightfoot’s songs. One of the tunes on that CD will be “The Last Time I Saw Her” as performed by Glen Campbell. It’s a very good version of a song I know much better from Lightfoot’s 1968 album, Did She Mention My Name. Campbell’s version was at No 69 forty-one years ago this week; it peaked at No. 61 on the pop chart and went to No. 21 in the country chart.

The Continental 4 was an R&B vocal quartet from Pittsburgh, and during this week in 1971, their only hit was sitting at No. 84. “Day by Day (Every Minute of the Hour)” is a sweeping piece of Philadelphia-style soul that didn’t sound a lot different than a lot of other records fighting for airplay at the time. Still, the record got to No. 19 on the R&B chart even as it stalled at No. 84 on the pop chart.

Sorting out the history of the Nite-Liters, a group started in Louisville, Kentucky, by Harvey Fuqua and Tony Churchill, is a little confusing. Joel Whitburn says in Top Pop Singles that the project evolved to include seventeen people in three groups: the vocal groups Love, Peace & Happiness and the New Birth as well as the band still called the Nite-Liters. All of that was yet to come during mid-July 1971, when the Nite-Liters’ “K-Jee” was sitting at No. 92.  The record, the first of ten in the Hot 100 for the Nite-Liters and the New Birth, peaked at No. 39 and made it to No. 17 on the R&B chart.

When I glanced at Sonny James’ entry in Whitburn’s Book of Top 40 Country Hits, I did a double-take. Between November of 1964 and July of 1972, James had twenty-five consecutive records reach the top three spots on the country chart; one of those peaked at No. 3, three of them went to No. 2, and the other twenty-one records, including a remarkable sixteen in a row, went to No. 1. Those years were, of course, only a portion of James’ long career: Between 1953 and 1983, he placed sixty-four records in the Country Top 40. His presence on the pop chart was a little less daunting but still notable: Twenty-six records in or near the Hot 100 between 1956 and 1972. He’s here today because forty-one years ago, his “Bright Lights, Big City” was sitting at No. 100. It would peak at No. 91 on the pop chart, and it was the fifteenth of those sixteen consecutive No. 1 hits on the country chart.

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4 Responses to “Love Means What?”

  1. Yah Shure Says:

    Sonny James was probably the top country artist around St. Cloud in the late ’70s, according to the folks down the hall at Stereo 98. I, too, was surprised to discover that at the time, although I began to hear more of his then-current material while doing Saturday afternoon remotes from Miller Pontiac.

  2. Steve E. Says:

    Glen Campbell’s version of “Last Time I Saw Her” was my first exposure to that song. I didn’t hear Lightfoot’s original until many years later. No doubt because of that, Campbell’s is the definitive version for me. It’s one of his most underrated singles.

    “I’m Leavin'” actually got to No. 10 on KHJ in Southern California, so I remember hearing it when it was new. I agree that it’s much more subdued song than we expect from Presley.

    The summer of 1971 is one of my favorites from childhood, and the records from that time is a big reason why. A wonderful Top 10. And I played Paul McCartney’s “Ram” album almost every day that summer. And I was avidly following Vida Blue’s amazing season for the Oakland A’s (17-3 at the All-Star break) while rooting for my beloved L.A. Dodgers to catch the hated S.F. Giants (they ultimately fell one game short).

  3. porky Says:

    yes, your top ten list was “vacation music” we heard in the car on a trip out west, hearing them brings that trip to mind.

  4. jb Says:

    Thank you for calling “love means never having to say you’re sorry” what it is, which is bullshit. I saw “Love Story” again a couple of years ago and was gobsmacked by the line, which I had forgotten. What a remarkably dumb way to look at love. Perhaps it means that if you really love someone, you will never do anything that requires you to apologize. Which might be possible if people were angels.

    The only advice one might take from “Disco Duck” is that deafness may not be entirely a curse.

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