American Top 40 PastBlast, 6/7/75: Michael Murphey, “Wildfire”

It’s June 10, 2012, a notable day in my son’s life—the day of his baptism. Throughout the spring, he and three other boys have been preparing via a membership class led by our pastor. It’s traditional in our congregation for each person in the class to have an adult sponsor, for conversation and guidance. Ben chose one of my religion colleagues at the college for his sponsor—Ben is good friends with my colleague’s older son. The service goes smoothly, and afterward there are four happy families. Martha’s sister and my mother are also present, and the five of us have a nice lunch out.

It turns out to be a notable day for me as well, the day that parts of my past resurface in the present and go on to shape my future.

My eighty-year-old father isn’t feeling well at all. Two weeks prior, he bailed on flying to Florida with Mom and me to witness my nephew’s high school graduation; he just ate the cost of the ticket. Dad has talked up coming down to Georgetown for the baptism, but as Sunday approaches, he realizes that he wouldn’t be able to endure several hours away from home. In order to minimize my mother’s time away from him, I agree to meet her in Dry Ridge, about midway between us, and ferry her to Georgetown and back.

One of my favorite stations to listen to in the car is WWRW, Rewind 105.5 (“70s and 80s Hits”). I’m aware that old American Top 40 shows from the 70s are being rebroadcast on Sunday mornings, but up until now, I haven’t taken the time to tune in intentionally. Today, though, an opportunity has arisen. I’m at the main intersection of town, heading north, when I flip on the radio. I don’t recognize the song, and I try to guess which pre-1976 year this might be. Casey tells me on the outro that Eddie Kendricks is at #30, with “Shoeshine Boy.” Up next is a cover of “The Way We Were,” by Gladys Knight and the Pips, so that limits the show to either 1974 or 1975. When the Ozark Mountain Daredevils close out the first hour with “Jackie Blue,” all is revealed: I’m listening to 6/7/75.

I meet Mom just as #20 (“Magic,” by Pilot) is playing, and drop her off at the door to the church as Major Harris croons “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.” I learn that Jessi Colter’s “I’m Not Lisa” is #8 as I park the car. Sometime that evening, I root around the internet and find that John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” was the final song Casey spun.

That was the start of what’s now been a nine-year re-connection with AT40, closing in on 50% longer than the span I listened to it growing up. It’s become a weekend ritual once again, and I’ve noted before how much it’s taught me about the music of the early 70s. It’s not clear at all this blog would exist had I not stepped back into that world. I’m amused that it was a show from the first weekend of June, exactly 52 weeks before I started keeping my charts, that kicked things off again. It took a few years to realize there was irony involved, as well.

I listened to 6/7/75 in its entirety yesterday (unlike in 2012). When “Shoeshine Boy” came on, I began reliving the trip to pick up my mother; I knew exactly where I was along the way up when unfamiliar songs from Carly Simon, the Temptations, Tavares, Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, Seals and Crofts, and Paul Anka all played in a row. The Carpenters, Alice Cooper, Joe Simon, and Average White Band were part of the soundtrack of the return leg. Knowing now how little time my parents had left in 2012, remembering my father’s increasing fragility, thinking about life in the mid-1970s—listening to the middle 90 minutes of the show again was an emotional experience.

Michael Murphey’s “Wildfire” was also a part of that morning nine years ago, sitting at #17. In two weeks, it would jump from #12 to #3, where it would be stymied from further progress by the Captain and Tennille and Linda Ronstadt.

It’s a weekday afternoon, mid-to-late June 1975. Mom and Dad are off attending to things that need to be attended to, and Amy and I are at a farm a few miles outside of Walton, spending time with friends. It belongs to the family of our dentist; their youngest is a boy my age, though he and I don’t go to the same school. One of his sisters, maybe three years older than I, is around, too. Years later, the two of them will jointly take over their father’s practice.

I think we four kids are in a car, likely with their mother, when “Wildfire” comes on the radio. The girl declares it’s one of her current favorites—is it possible that she’s into horses? I like it pretty well, too. The association of the song with the moment will last a lifetime.

These days, the melancholia in “Wildfire” seems to be a foreshadowing of the sheen of sadness I hear and feel when listening to the songs on 1975 shows from later that summer and fall. It’s a sense I didn’t quite realize was present at the time.

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