One of my favorite songs from the summer of 77 is Dean Friedman’s “Ariel.” It’s a bit goofy but catchy as anything, and the lyrics are super fun, from “Yeah, I guess I am” to “…bombs bursting in airrrrrrrrrrrrrriel.” It’s #29 this week and got only as high as #26.
However, the thing I wanted to highlight about it here is its non-standard chart run. Friedman was signed to Lifesong Records, a small label started a couple years earlier by Terry Cashman and Tommy West which had produced the #6 hit “Shannon” for Henry Gross in 76. The story Friedman tells in this interview jibes with things I’ve read elsewhere: Lifesong was caught off-guard by the demand for “Ariel” and couldn’t supply stores with the 45 quickly enough (I can’t recall now if I ever tried to buy it without success—it’s a trifle odd though that, as much as I liked it, it didn’t wind up in my 45 collection). Thus its halt at #26 on the 6/25/77 show, falling to #47 the next week.
Maybe at this point there was an influx of 45s to stores, as “Ariel” started to climb again. It first moved up to #41, and then a four-week return to AT40 followed, where it topped out this time at #32, on 8/6. If the supply/demand stories are indeed accurate, one wonders what might have been.
“Ariel” wasn’t the only song in this period with two slightly separate runs on American Top 40; there were three others. One that came a little later in 77 was “Way Down,” which dropped off the show from a #31 peak the week that Elvis died. Sales soon picked up quickly and it reached #18 in a seven-week second appearance in the fall.
The other two songs benefitted from what one might call “hovering” around the #40 position. My desire for order made me want to impose on songs a smooth ride up and down the charts, but there was no real reason to expect there couldn’t be a little jitter in sales and airplay from week to week, especially since there were still important regional differences in the 70s in which songs were popular. My recollection is that stop-and-start rides happened more often on the show in the late 76 to early 78 period than what came later, but who knows.
Anyway, in the first week of March 77, “Spring Rain” from Argentina-born Bebu Silvetti, began an eight-week run that went 43-41-39-42-42-40-40-46. And then at the end of November, the fourth single from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, “As,” had a 44-40-40-39-49-42-38-36-55 ride.
Restricting our interest to just forty songs is somewhat arbitrary, perhaps in part an artifact of being a round figure close to the number of songs that could be played in three hours in 1970 (I realize that Top 40 as a radio format does pre-date Casey Kasem). It’s only been in the last few years I learned that “Spring Rain” and “As” weren’t the only songs in 77 to hang around #40 after falling off—it’s just in those cases their wiggle didn’t quite take them back on to the show. First, long-time favorite “Whispering/Cherchez la Femme/Se Si Bon,” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, fell to #41 on 2/6 from its #27 peak and then went 44-43-43-42-45 over the following five weeks.
Then there’s the outlier case of “Devil’s Gun,” by Detroit R&B/disco group C. J. and Company. “Devil’s Gun” had a quick 38-36 appearance on AT40 in mid-July, peaking in its ninth week on the Hot 100. It quickly fell to #93 but then began what could only be called an epic odyssey. There were three more advances up the chart over the next four months; it clawed its way back to #43 on 9/10. The other surges weren’t quite so close: after falling back to #56 it recovered to #48 on 10/15, and finally, it retreated to #71 before mounting one more charge to #57 on 11/19.
Maybe more than you wanted to know, but that hasn’t stopped me yet…
I’m going to spin the 45 version of “Ariel,” since that’s the one that takes me back to the summer I was 13.