In Early 1970

Originally posted January 15, 2010

After running some errands this morning and despite having a more full agenda than most days this afternoon, I wanted to stop by and at least offer something here today.

This year, 2010, turns out to be the fortieth anniversary of one of the more important years in my musical life. For all of 1970, I listened intently to Top 40 radio, and that’s the only year about which I can say that. My Top 40 habit came upon me, as I’ve written here before, during the summer of 1969 (and as I write that, my internal jukebox starts playing Bryan Adams), and by the latter months of 1971, I was listening more and more to the album rock played at night on KVSC-FM, St. Cloud State’s student station.

But for all of 1970, I tuned my radio to either KDWB in the Twin Cities or – in the evenings – to WJON just across the railroad tracks from Kilian Boulvard and, later in the evenings, to WLS in Chicago. And by the time that year began, with four months of listening tucked away, I knew when a record was new to the playlist. I was no longer – for the most part – trying to sort out what was current and what had been current six months or a year or eighteen months earlier. That meant I had a cogent answer available if the locker room jabber turned to music and one of the guys asked me, “Whaddaya think of the new Temptations single?”

Being able to know, in that case, that he was referring to “Psychedelic Shack” instead of “I Can’t Get Next To You” meant there was one more way for me to seem like I belonged in high school society. Or, alternatively, it meant that there was one less way for me to seem like a dork.

Anyway, I look these days at various radio stations’ playlists and surveys from forty years ago, and I see, for the most part, old friends. Even if I were alone more than I might have wanted – a condition not uncommon for those who are sixteen, I think – I had the radio. I won’t say that I recognize all the titles I see on every survey; but I recognize the vast majority of them, and I think that if I were to hear the records, I’d recall most of those whose titles are not familiar.

All of that serves as an introduction to the first of what I hope will be regular looks throughout this year at radio surveys from 1970. We’ll start with the “$ilver Dollar $urvey” for the week of January 16, 1970 from KCBQ in San Diego, California. Why KCBQ? Because I was unable to find surveys for this week from either KDWB or WDGY, the Twin Cities Top 40 stations of the day. (The KDWB surveys used to be available at The Oldies Loon, but no longer; the only WDGY survey available there from January 1970 is from a week earlier.) Given that, San Diego seemed like a fine place to start.

Here’s the top fifteen in that $ilver Dollar $urvey:

“Venus” by the Shocking Blue
“Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5
“Take A Letter Maria” by R.B. Greaves
“Cold Turkey” by the Plastic Ono Band
“Baby I’m For Real” by the Originals
“Someday We’ll Be Together” by the Supremes
“Don’t Cry Daddy” by Elvis Presley
“Brand New Me” by Dusty Springfield
“Leavin’ On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul & Mary
“Down On The Corner/Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Ma Belle Amie” by the Tee Set
“Walkin’ In The Rain” by Jay & The Americans
“Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band

That’s a pretty good – and very familiar – hour of listening. A couple of those records – the Elvis title in particular, as well as the Jay & The Americans tune – didn’t really speak to me, and years after having last heard it regularly, I’m still tired of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.” But several of those fifteen – the joyously excessive “Whole Lotta Love,” the R.B. Greaves tune and “Up On Cripple Creek” – remain among my favorites.

I should also note I have some affection for “Ma Belle Amie,” which gave listeners a useful French phrase for saying goodbye. (A young lady headed to a different high school for senior year actually wrote that French sentence, word for word, in my annual in May 1970. The next time I saw her was twenty years later in the role of Trudy Chelgren, one of the waitresses in the iconic coffee shop in Twin Peaks.)

The only record among KCBQ’s top fifteen from forty years ago that I didn’t immediately recall was the Originals’ “Baby I’m For Real.” Whether it got much airplay in the Twin Cities, I don’t know. All I can say is that I found the WDGY survey for the previous week, and “Baby I’m For Real” is not listed.

The Originals were part of the Motown organization, according to All-Music Guide, and after some records that didn’t hit all that well, reached the top of the R&B chart in 1970 with “Baby I’m For Real.” The record, produced by Marvin Gaye and co-written by Gaye and his then-wife, Anna, was the first of two Top 40 hits for the group, peaking at No. 14. (“The Bells” went to No. 12 in the early spring of 1970.)

Even though I didn’t recognize the title, it turned out I had the record on vinyl on a Time/Life anthology, and I did indeed dimly recall it. To my ear, it sounds more like something that would’ve come out of Philadelphia than Detroit, but it’s a sweet piece of modernized doo-wop.

“Baby I’m For Real” by the Originals, Soul 35066 [1969]

Note: I’ve corrected some title errors in the KCBQ survey. “Whole Lotta Love,” for instance, was offered as “Whole Lotta Lovin’.”

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