Archive for the ‘The Least Of The Best’ Category

The Least Of The Best: 1975

February 25, 2022

Here’s the end of the line for our game, The Least Of The Best, as we hit 1975, the last year in what I call my sweet spot. It was the last year during which I liked most of what I heard on AM radio and on jukeboxes in bars, restaurants and down in the snack bar at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center.

It was also the year when I started taking college seriously, when I realized that the classes I was taking in Mass Communication were actually intended to give me skills I would need when I got my degree and had to go out into the real world and make a living. Along the way, I learned that I liked to write and was pretty good at it.

Add some good friends, a fun part-time job, and 1975 was year during which most things went well. Even forty-seven years later, 1975 is still among the best three or four years of my life.

So, what was at the top of the Billboard year-end chart, as offered by Joel Whitburn in his book, A Century Of Pop Music? Take a look:

“Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain & Tennille
“Fly, Robin, Fly” by Silver Convention
“Island Girl” by Elton John
“He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” by Tony Orlando & Dawn
“Bad Blood” by Neil Sedaka

Three of those – the records by Silver Convention, Elton John and Neil Sedaka – peaked in the autumn, which was one of the ten or so best seasons of my life, so they’re hard to assess. “Fly, Robin, Fly” is probably the least of those three with its throbbing bass, keening strings and the nearly chanted vocals. I may be wrong here, but it’s not quite disco; call it proto-disco, and I’m not sure what leads me to that conclusion.

Nor do I think that “Island Girl” and “Bad Blood” are great records. At least, I’m not sure that they are. (And I’m not sure the first could be released today.) But they’re parked right in one of the sweetest spots of my sweet spot, and I can’t sort out quality from memory; all I can say – and this holds true for “Fly, Robin, Fly” as well – is that every time I’m at leisure and hear any of those three, I’m lost in them and their time for at least a few seconds.

As to No. 1 from that distant year, I got tired of it at the time. It sat at No. 1 for four weeks during the early part of the summer, and I thought I’d be glad to never hear it again. Then, maybe about eight to ten years ago, “Love Will Keep Us Together” popped up on a random game here, forcing me to reassess it. And I decided that it’s a marvelous piece of popcraft.

That leaves Tony Orlando & Dawn. The record peaked in early May, spending three weeks atop the Hot 100 (as did the records by Sedaka, John and Silver Convention). But I don’t recall hearing it nearly as often as I did the other four. Maybe “He Don’t Love You . . .” wasn’t in the Atwood Center jukebox. It could be as simple as that. But it doesn’t move me one way or the other.

So, how about now? Do any of those five matter now (as measured by their presence in my day-to-day listening in my iPod)? Well, Silver Convention is there (as is a cover of “Fly, Robin, Fly” by the string quartet Bond). “Island Girl” is there, and so is “Love Will Keep Us Together.” The other two singles aren’t likely to be added.

What record, then, sits at the bottom of 1975’s Top 40? Well, it’s a record that I know I heard a lot and liked okay, but if you’d asked me a couple of hours ago what year it came out, I’d have had to stop and think a bit. “Lyin’ Eyes” by the Eagles peaked at No. 2 in early November of 1975, but it’s not instantly connected to that season. And it’s not one of the nine Eagles’ singles in the iPod. I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t matter much to me, either.

The Least Of The Best: 1974

February 16, 2022

We’re back with the next-to-last game of The Least Of The Best, playing this time in 1974. We’ll look at the top five records of the year – as offered by Joel Whitburn in his book A Century Of Pop Music – and then check out the record that finished No. 40 for the year.,

And 1974 is one of those years that might bring me a surprise, as I was out of the country and not very clued into Top 40 for the first five-plus months of the year. I heard bits and pieces of what was popular in the States as I visited Danish friends and then backpacked around Western Europe, but even now, almost fifty years later, records from that time sometimes surprise me.

We’ll start with the year’s top five records:

“The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand
“Seasons In The Sun” by Terry Jacks
“The Streak” by Ray Stevens
“(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka with Odia Coates
“Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas

Oh, my. When “Kung Fu Fighting” is the second-best of a bunch of records . . .

I was out of the country when the Streisand and Jacks records peaked, but I’d somehow managed to hear “Seasons In The Sun” on – I think – a British radio station in January 1974. I was appalled the first time I heard it, as I have been ever since.

I missed the Streisand single – and the movie it came from – and by the time I got back to the States, it wasn’t getting airplay. I had to catch up with it later. It’s a fine record, by far the best of the five in that list.

And I missed, mostly, “The Streak.” It peaked a few days before I returned to Minnesota. As I’ve noted here over the years, very few novelty records rank very highly with me.

As to the singles by Anka/Coates and Douglas: I’ve always thought that “(You’re) Having My Baby” was clumsy social pandering, and I’m not sure which annoyed me more, the pandering or the clumsiness, and “Kung Fu Fighting” was just silly (though I wonder now, in a different age, how its use of ethnic stereotypes and its cultural appropriations might be viewed).

I’m certain that the only one of those five records that might be in the iPod and thus part of my day-to-day listening is the Streisand. And it’s not even there (though I’ll likely add it today). The only one of the other four that’s even in the 84,000 tracks in the RealPlayer is “Kung Fu Fighting.” Even in a wide-ranging archive, the singles by Anka/Coates, Stevens, and especially Jacks are not welcome.

And now we head to the bottom of 1974’s Top 40, where we find Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” a record that’s – in my mind, anyway – a middling sort in John’s catalog but vastly superior to anything we found in the top five of the year. It peaked at No. 2 in July of 1974.

The Least Of The Best, 1973

February 9, 2022

The game, by now, should be a familiar one: Look at the top five records from Billboard for any one year – as compiled by chart guru Joel Whitburn – and then check out the bottom of that annual Top 40 chart. So, with the year of 1973 in our sights, let’s play The Least Of The Best.

Here are the top five records for the chart year of 1973:

“Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack
“Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Dawn/Tony Orlando
“My Love” by Paul McCartney & Wings
“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon
“Crocodile Rock” by Elton John

Hmmm. That No. 2 record is now a cliché, the climactic act in its story resurrected seemingly every time someone goes somehow missing. It was a cute story song the first time I heard it, and I never needed to hear it again. But of course, I did. Over and over and over.

Some records bear repeated playings well. The Roberta Flack record that finished No. 1 for the year did, spending five weeks at No. 1 in February and March. “Yellow Ribbon” was No. 1 for four weeks in April and May of 1973 and after the second hearing, I wanted to never hear it again.

And I imagine I have an extra dose of scorn for the record as it was the spark for the whole “If we put up ribbons, the whole world will know we want so-and-so home.” In the catalog of Great American Schlock, that one must rank very near the top, and I wonder what it is about it that sets me off so. If I think about it, the habit of putting up ribbons for the lost is not nearly as prevalent as it once was. But it lingers in memory, taking the song and record with it.

The rest of that top five for 1973 is fine. I have no specific memories tied to the Flack record, but I recall moments with three of the others: “Crocodile Rock,” with its simple chord structure, was one of the stepping stones in my five quarters of music theory, as I trained myself to not only recognize chord patterns but discern the keys that songs were in. “You’re So Vain” sparked conversation about its subject in many places, but the one that comes to mind is in the television studio at St. Cloud State, as the cast and crew of a forgotten production filled time during a delay. And “My Love” will always take me to a summer evening and place me in line with Rick and our pal Gary, waiting for a treat at the Dairy Queen on St. Cloud’s East Side.

But only two of the five show up in the iPod to be part of my current day-to-day listening: “My Love” and “You’re So Vain.” Will the Elton John and Roberta Flack singles join them? I don’t know.

Now, on to our other business. The No. 40 record for 1973 turns out to be one I disliked at the time and don’t care about one way or another now. It came along early in the year and spent three weeks at No. 1 in early May: “Little Willy” by the Sweet.

I heard it on the radio now and then in the car, I imagine, where Top 40 was all I had. At home, I was more likely to listen to my own records or to the album rock on St. Cloud State’s KVSC-FM. The only other place I might have heard it was the jukebox at the student union, but I’m not sure. I don’t remember where I heard it, but wherever it was, I had no time for it. Why? I don’t know. It just annoyed me.

Of course, it’s not in the iPod. In fact, it’s not even among the 84,000 tracks in the RealPlayer. I did find it in a 1973 collection in a folder I use to store a few thousand mp3s I’ve somehow gained and never sorted. Maybe I’ll pull it in out of the cold.

Nearly fifty years later, it’s not nearly as annoying as it was then, still, it’s an earworm, and once I finish this piece – unless I go listen purposefully to something else – I know I’m gonna hear “Little Willy (Willy) won’t . . . go home!” in my head.

Saturday Single No. 772

February 5, 2022

Well, we’re going to take one more stab this week at The Least of the Best, this time for 1972, a year that kind of just sits there in my memory, highlighted only by a trip with my pals Rick and Gary to check out the highlights of Winnipeg, Manitoba, about five hundred miles north of us. We saw part of a blues festival downtown, went to the zoo, wandered around the Provincial Capitol building, and – during a camping stopover on the way home – met two girls about our ages from Okemos, Michigan.

So, let’s look at the records at the top of the chart for the year and then take a look at the No. 40 record for the year. Our source is Joel Whitburn’s A Century Of Pop Music, a collation of data from Billboard magazine. The top five records of 1972 were:

“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack
“Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
“American Pie – Parts I and II” by Don McLean
“Without You” by Nilsson
“I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

If I had bothered to guess before opening the Whitburn book, I would have said McLean’s single or O’Sullivan’s would have been at the top of the list. I recall both of those seemingly playing everywhere all the time, “American Pie” during the first portions of the year and “Alone Again (Naturally)” during the summer.

Flack’s record filled the space between the two, being released in February, a fact which kind of startled me as I looked things up this morning. Why? Because I tend to think of “The First Time . . .” as a 1971 record due to its use in the Clint Eastwood movie Play Misty For Me, which I saw while on a date in late 1971. And I’m not sure I’ve ever liked the record that much.

As to the others, I loved and still love both “American Pie” and “Without You.” I liked the O’Sullivan record when it first came out but then I tired of it during that summer. And the Johnny Nash record is one of those that I know inside and out without ever having paid much conscious attention to it. It’s always just kind of been there.

So, what do I think of those five now? As always, we’ll use the presence or the absence of the tracks in my iPod to determine their value fifty years later. And four of the five are in there, with the only absence being that of “Alone Again (Naturally).” I’ve still got some room, so I’ll likely add the track later today. (That also means that I must have some affection for the Flack single after all.)

So, what record sits at the bottom of 1972’s Top 40? Well, it’s a record by Chicago that kind of made me wince when it came along in early August of 1972 and climbed into the Top Ten in September, a week or two before St. Cloud State’s academic year began. I wasn’t hanging around the snack bar at the student union until sometime in early 1973, so I never heard it on the jukebox there, but I heard it often enough in other places to think it wasn’t nearly as good as the group’s earlier work had been.

I once wrote here that Chicago had seemed to soften up as the 1970s went along, and I guess that’s not surprising. We all softened up as the Seventies went by. (That is, until punk rock and a few other things came along towards the end of the decade, screaming “You’ve all gotten soft! Get your shit together!”)

And the record that wound up at No. 40 for 1972 seemed to me to encapsulate that softening, unaware as I was that softer stuff was yet to come for Chicago, especially after then 1978 death of guitarist Terry Kath. What I heard in the group’s top-ranking single of 1972 – it went to No. 3 in late September – wasn’t what I’d come to expect from the group, and I was disappointed.

So how do I feel about the record now? Well, let’s check the 2,700-some tracks in the iPod. The Chicago tracks there come mostly from the group’s three first albums with a smattering of stuff from later on in the Seventies, but the record in question is not among them, and even though I tend to hum along when it pops up on the radio, I’m not likely to add it. Anyway, here’s “Saturday In The Park,” today’s Saturday Single.

The Least of the Best, 1971

February 4, 2022

Well, to get to the weekend, we’ll play the 1971 version of The Least of the Best, looking at the top and bottom of the Top 40 records for that year, the year I left high school and headed to college, mowing lawns and scrubbing floors during the intervening summer.

The top five records in 1971, according to Joel Whitburn’s book, A Century Of Pop Music, were:

“Joy To The World” by Three Dog Night
“Maggie May” by Rod Stewart
“It’s Too Late” by Carole King
“One Bad Apple” by the Osmonds
“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees

I enjoyed four of those fifty-one years ago, though I tired rapidly of the Three Dog Night single. I kind of scoffed at “One Bad Apple” back then, but it’s aged well. Two of the other three in that list are classics that will remain fresh forever, but the Bee Gees record has lost a little of its freshness, though it – like “It’s Too Late” and “Maggie May” – is in my iPod and thus a part of my day-to-day listening.

The record in the lowest rung of the 1971 Top 40 is not in the iPod, though I don’t really dislike it. It’s an okay record, peaking at No. 3 during the end of that summer of lawns and floors. It’s “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band:

The Least Of The Best, 1970

February 2, 2022

We’re going to pick up where we left off Saturday, looking today at the top five records for 1970 and then taking a look at No. 40 from that very long-ago year, using Joel Whitburn’s A Century Of Pop Music as our guide.

As was the case Saturday, when we looked at 1969, I expect none of the records to be strangers. The year of 1970 was my one full year of dedicated Top 40 listening. I discovered that universe in mid-1969 and by the end of 1971 was heading toward album rock as played during the nighttime hours (and by spring of 1972, full-time) on KVSC-FM at St. Cloud State.

But my time on the SCS campus was still nine months in the future as 1970 ended. I recall lying on the living room couch during the afternoon of January 1, 1971, jotting down the top thirty records of 1970 as calculated by KDWB out of the Twin Cities. KDWB’s top five wasn’t the same as the top five Whitburn offers in his book. Here, based on performance in the Billboard Hot 100, are the top five records of 1970 as listed by Whitburn:

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5
“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” by B.J. Thomas
“(They Long To Be) Close To You” by the Carpenters
“My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison

I know, without having to dig for my scraps of paper from January 1, 1971, that two records that KDWB ranked in its top five are missing from this one. The Beatles’ “Let It Be” was No. 1 at KDWB but wound up at No. 10 in Whitburn’s calculations, and “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family was No. 2 at KDWB but found itself at No. 6 when Whitburn was done with his work.

Fifty-two years ago, I liked all five of those records, some more than others. “My Sweet Lord” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” would have topped my list. (I still have the sheet music for “Bridge . . .” that I bought back then; I worked hard enough at it that I could do a reasonable facsimile of Larry Knechtel’s magnificent piano arrangement for the song.)

If I’d had to rank the other three of that top five back then, I’d have gone with B.J. Thomas ahead of the Carpenters and then the Jackson 5. Now, I think I’d slide Thomas to the bottom of that troika. But they’re all fine records, and all of them except “I’ll Be There” are in my day-to-day listening in my iPod.

But what record lies at the bottom of 1970’s Top 40? Well, it’s a record that I thought was cool when I first heard it during that summer. By the time it peaked at No. 3 during the second half of August, I was thoroughly tired of it. And I never seem to have regained my taste for it. But here’s “Spill The Wine” by Eric Burdon & War.

Saturday Single No. 771

January 29, 2022

One thing I’ve not done a lot of here is look at the annual Billboard pop charts. I’ve got them, at least for the entire Twentieth Century, gathered in one of Joel Whitburn’s publications, A Century Of Pop Music.

I recall using the book once, when I checked the ranking of a tune in connection with a post about my mom’s Uncle Henry. I might have used the book more often than that – I can’t imagine I didn’t – but it comes off the shelf on the other side of the room far less often than a lot of the other books do.

Maybe that’s because it doesn’t provide many surprises, at least in the charts from the years I write about most – 1964 to, say, 1976. I may not know what the No. 40 record for 1965 was, but I’m pretty sure it’s something I’ve heard, likely often. (And I’m right about that; the record listed at No. 40 for 1965 is “Let’s Hang On” by the 4 Seasons.)

But I’m going to play with it a little today and, I think, off and on for the next few weeks, looking each time at the top five records in the years I consider my sweet spot – 1969 through 1975 – and then taking a listen to the No. 40 record of the year, whatever it may be.

We’ll start in 1969, because that was the year that I heard Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” coming from the radio in the training room during a break in the two-a-days that started football practice at St. Cloud Tech High School. Not long after that I moved Grampa’s old RCA radio from the basement shelf to my nightstand and began to seriously listen to Top 40 radio.

The top five singles for 1969 were:

“Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” by the 5th Dimension
“In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans
“Get Back” by the Beatles with Billy Preston
“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Honky-Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones

Nothing at all surprising there. And they’re everywhere, certainly in my corner of the world. Three of them – the records by the 5th Dimension, the Beatles/Billy Preston, and the Rolling Stones – are here as records (with “Aquarius” on a 45 – the first music 45 I ever bought – and the other two on albums). All three of those are here on CDs and as mp3s.

The records by the Archies and Zager & Evans are likely here on CD compilations and are certainly here as mp3s. And four of the five were on the iPod this morning, and thus among my essential day-to-day listening. The one I missed – and it was an oversight that’s been corrected – was the Stones’ record.

But what was the No. 40 record for 1969, the record we might call the least of the best? Well, it’s one that I never particularly liked: “Down On The Corner” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I’m not sure why it never got on my good side, but I rather enjoyed the flipside, “Fortunate Son,” which also got some airplay in late 1969. So it’s not in my iPod. But it’s here as today’s Saturday Single.