Posts Tagged ‘Motherlode’

That First Top 40 Season

May 27, 2022

Originally reported September 23, 2009

Often, when I immerse myself in my reference books or lists, I ponder two categories of Top 40 music: Records that I don’t recall ever hearing at all and records that don’t show up these days on oldies radio.

Regular readers know the tale: I was, at best, a passive listener to Top 40 for years. If I were around Rick, I heard what he heard. If my sister had friends over, I heard – from another room – what they heard. During my junior high years, I heard the records played at dances and in the gym during the second half of lunch hours. It was during the fall of 1969 that I became an active listener to Top 40, hoping to join in on locker room gab about music and not seem utterly clueless.

So it was about this time forty years ago that I re-tuned my radio, moving the little red line over to the left, to 630, the frequency of KDWB in the Twin Cities, one of two Top 40 stations available to St. Cloud listeners in the daytime. (Evening brought Top 40 to WJON, just down the street and across the tracks from our house, and I was a regular evening listener for years.)

So what was it I heard during those first days? The Billboard Top Ten from forty years ago this week looked like this:

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones
“Easy to Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman
“I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations
“Jean” by Oliver
“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” by Tom Jones
“Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly & the Family Stone
“Oh, What A Night” by the Dells

Some of that is pretty good, some of it a little gooey, but overall, pretty good. To be honest, a couple of those are records I don’t think I ever heard back then. If I heard them, it didn’t happen frequently enough for them to make an impression. I know the Dells’ single, but that’s from digging into pop and rock history over the last twenty years, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Tom Jones’ version of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.”

The Billboard chart is a national chart, however, and what we were listening to in Minnesota might have been a fair amount different (as was frequently the case across the country; local playlists often differed a fair amount). I wasn’t able to find a KDWB chart from this week forty years ago, but the Airheads Radio Survey Archive offered one from WDGY, the other Top 40 station in the Twin Cities. I didn’t listen to WDGY, memory tells me, because its signal was not as strong and it didn’t come in well in St. Cloud. I imagine there are a few differences here from what KDWB was playing, but I don’t think they’d be major. (Someone can correct me if I’m wrong.) Here’s WDGY’s Top Ten for September 26, 1969:

“Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman
“Easy to Be Hard” by Three Dog Night
“Jean” by Oliver
“Everybody’s Talkin’” by Nilsson
“Hurt So Bad” by the Lettermen
“Lay Lady Lay’ by Bob Dylan
“Green River” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“This Girl Is A Woman Now” by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
“Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly & the Family Stone

Every one of those comes out of the speakers of my memory. But as I look further down the WDGY chart, which goes to No. 30, there are five records I do not recall hearing. The Tom Jones tune is joined by four others: “When I Die” by Motherlode, “And That Reminds Me” by the Four Seasons, “No One For Me To Turn To” by Spiral Starecase and “You, I” by the Rugbys.

In the Top 30 of the Billboard list, I find five unheard records as well: The Dells’ record and the Tom Jones single along with “What’s The Use of Breaking Up” by Jerry Butler, “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am” by Bill Deal & the Rhondells and the Rugbys single.

Some of those – most notably the singles by Spiral Starecase and the Rugbys – remain mysteries today. But one can’t hear everything. And that brings me to my second list: Songs that one doesn’t seem to hear even on oldies radio these days. (And when I talk about radio, I’m talking about earthbound stuff, not satellite and so on. I get the sense from what I’ve read and from folks who listen to satellite radio that playlists are immensely deeper and specialized.)

I have to admit I don’t listen to radio much these days. My radio time is usually in the car when I’m out running errands, although I occasionally have it on when I’m puttering in the kitchen. And when the radio is on, I imagine that about two-thirds the time, it’s tuned to KQQL-FM, an oldies station in the Twin Cities. In any case, as I looked at the Billboard chart from forty years ago this week, I saw many titles that I don’t recall hearing on the radio for a long, long time, if ever. Here are six of them.

A Six-Pack of Radio Rarities (Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending September 27, 1969)
“Little Woman” by Bobby Sherman, Metromedia 121 (No. 5)
“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash, Columbia 44944 (No. 11)
“Your Good Thing (Is About To End)” by Lou Rawls, Capitol 2550 (No. 18)
“When I Die” by Motherlode, Buddah 131 (No. 21)
“Move Over” by Steppenwolf, Dunhill 4205 (No. 31)
“Did You See Her Eyes” by the Illusion, Steed 718 (No. 36)

Including a record here isn’t necessarily a recommendation. The best example of that is the Bobby Sherman record. It’s pretty limp pop, but it did get all the way to No. 3, according to the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. That was the best that Bobby Sherman ever did on the chart, although he had six more Top 40 singles through May of 1971. I guess if I were to choose a Bobby Sherman hit for a deep spot on a radio playlist, I’d be tempted to go with “Julie, Do Ya Love Me,” which actually isn’t all that great a record either. In the context of an oldie station, though, neither one would sound awful coming out of the speakers every once in a while.

“A Boy Named Sue” was pulled from the live 1969 album Johnny Cash recorded at San Quentin prison in California. It’s humorous, and you can hear Cash almost laughing as he sings Shel Silverstein’s work. There might have been versions out at the time that didn’t bleep out the epithet – which I think was “son-of-a-bitch” – at the song’s climax, but I’m not sure. Sometime very soon, I’m going to get the expanded CD release, which contains the entire concert Cash and his band put on for the inmates of San Quentin, and I expect the bleep will be gone. The single was Cash’s twelfth Top 40 hit and spent three weeks at No. 2, being blocked from the top spot by the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”

It seems like there’s a rule for many artists – those who had relatively few Top 40 hits – that one record stands in for all. When you hear Lou Rawls on the oldies stations today, the record is almost sure to be “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” which went to No. 2 in 1976. There’s no doubt that’s a great record (and Rawls’ biggest hit), but why not stretch a little? Play “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing” (No. 13, 1966) or the one I offer here, “Your Good Thing (Is About To End),” which peaked at No. 18 forty years ago this week.

I’m not sure what the formal definition is for identifying a One-Hit Wonder. Actually, I’m not sure there is a formal definition. Mine is: one Top 40 hit. Lots of groups that are called One-Hit Wonders very often aren’t, as they have one memorable record and something else that edged its way to No. 37 or some similar spot. One example of that is Lighthouse, which had the superb hit “One Fine Morning” go to No. 24 in 1971 but also reached the Top 40 with “Sunny Days,” which peaked at No. 34 in 1972. Motherlode, on the other hand, is a pure One-Hit Wonder. The Canadian quartet had one hit and one hit only: “When I Die,” which is pretty good, peaked at No. 18.

Steppenwolf seems to fall into the Lou Rawls Rule: The group had seven Top 40 hits between 1968 and 1974, but only two of them – “Born To Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” – ever seem to show up on the radio. And that’s too bad. “Rock Me” and “Hey Lawdy Mama” would liven up the day considerably if they ever came out of the speakers. As would “Move Over,” which was the fourth of the group’s seven hits. It peaked at No. 31.

The Illusion is another pure One-Hit Wonder, as “Did You See Her Eyes” was the group’s only trip into the Top 40. Released on Jeff Barry’s Steed label, the record is a good piece of pop-rock – tougher than most – and would be a nice change of pace on radio. The record peaked at No. 32. (My thanks to the Acid Test DJs for the clean rip.)