American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/9/73: Steely Dan, “Reeling in the Years”

Jukeboxes were a little past their heyday but still quite popular by the time I was old enough for them to catch my interest. I associate them mostly with diners and the Pizza Hut we had in Florence, but I’m sure I encountered them with some frequency in other places. As much as I was into popular music, I was usually compelled to investigate what was on offer. I certainly wasn’t averse to slugging one with a quarter or two from time to time, perhaps particularly when I found an obscure favorite among its offerings.

The front page of the 6/9/73 issue of Billboard announced some changes to its methodology in computing the Hot 100 (hat tip to a post by AT40-phile Pete Battistini on a message board I read). Among them was they would begin counting sales to jukebox operators, which apparently comprised a significant percentage of product moved (that makes sense upon reflection). But Billboard was also reducing the weighting given to sales in the chart rankings, placing a greater emphasis on airplay. Finally, they were starting to use a computer to compile results. The first output from their program was sent off to Casey and company in late May for this show, and they immediately got to work.

It didn’t take long for the Billboard folks to discover they’d made an error; when they re-compiled, things shook out quite a bit differently. (For the first run, there were no new songs on the show, although two cuts that had fallen out the previous week re-appeared. Other tunes that had been falling surged back up, and some that were primed to ascend slipped back just a little. The claim is that there was a bug in the code.) All told, there were five songs on the second version that weren’t on the first: four debuts, plus “Daddy Could Swear, I Declare” from Gladys Knight and the Pips, which should have been in its second week. Only four songs—#1, #2, #28, and #31—were in the same spot on the two runs.

The AT40 staff was contacted quickly about the modified chart, but by that time the show was in the can, ready to be mailed off, and couldn’t be reasonably re-done. Tom Rounds, the executive producer, included a note to radio stations explaining the reason for the differences between what appeared in the magazine and on the show. Thanks again go to Battistini—info about all this appears in his book American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1970’s).

“Reeling in the Years” was played at #15, but was really #22—it had peaked a couple of weeks before at #11. It’s one of my two or three favorites from Steely Dan, a complete pop gem. I’ve long dug the parallel construction regarding the things Fagen doesn’t understand at the end of each verse.

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