American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/13/76: Walter Murphy and ??, “A Fifth of Beethoven”

One of the many things that makes listening again to AT40 shows from my chart-keeping years such an incredible treat is I get a chance to pick up on facts and tales I missed back in the day. Occasionally, though, I discover that a closer listen and a closer look reveal that maybe I had been paying some attention after all.

I’ve been listening to rebroadcasts since the summer of 2012, but I think it’s just been the last couple of years that I’ve noticed in July-Nov 76 shows what Casey called the act performing this show’s #21 song: the Walter Murphy Band. This has been jarring to me, being that I’d bought the 45 in its heyday:

Assuming Casey never uttered “and the Big Apple” during “A Fifth of Beethoven”‘s 22-week chart-topping ride, my charts point to when I bought the single: ‘The Big Apple Band’ first appears on my 8/28/76 chart, the eighth time it was played. I’m not quite consistent thereafter, though–it’s just the Walter Murphy Band on 10/16 and 11/27 (I was clearly paying attention to what Kasem was saying on those two occasions).

This week I’ve been pondering the discrepancy. I put a question about it on the AT40 Fun and Games message board, looked at my Whitburn, and performed a modicum of internet sleuthing (often Wikipedia, I confess). I don’t have a completely clear picture of what happened, but here are some things that seem to be the case:
–The idea for the BAB name came via Private Stock, Murphy’s recording label;
–There was another band in New York with that name at the moment;
–“Flight ’76,” the follow-up single, is listed in Whitburn as by the Walter Murphy Band;
–On the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, “A Fifth of Beethoven” is credited simply to Walter Murphy.

The most likely scenario is that BAB got pulled from the name after Private Stock discovered the existence of the other group. Maybe word about that reached the AT40 staff by the time the song hit the show? Regardless, Private Stock didn’t seem to stop from pressing singles with BAB on the label–a search on eBay reveals a few dozen on offer even as I write, with a variety of font types and sizes (indicating multiple pressings, I presume).

Two postscripts:
1) After “A Fifth of Beethoven” fell off the show, Casey had reason to spin it twice more: on 1/1/77, at #10 on the Top 100 of 76, and on 12/15/79, as part of the “#1’s of the 70s” series. I took at look at the cue sheets, available via Charis Music Group. The 79 sheets do actually reference the Big Apple Band.

2) Oh, and that other Big Apple Band? They changed their name right around the time “A Fifth of Beethoven” became a hit, though I’m not absolutely certain it was in response to that. Managed a few big hits not long after–you might’ve heard of ’em.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/11/78: Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg, “The Power of Gold”

Our Christmas gift to each other in 2004 was an iPod, fourth generation, I think. A few months earlier, I’d begun collecting CDs that contained my “original forty,” the songs appearing on the 6/5/76 countdown; the last few were painfully obtained via our new iTunes account, over a non-broadband internet connection in our apartment in Ithaca, NY. As I’ve mentioned previously, afterward I began eyeing other shows to re-assemble. Over the course of roughly the next five years, a total of thirty-two collections, covering a ten-year span from June 76 to May 86, were loaded onto that iPod. For the remotely interested, here they are:

19766/5, 10/2
19771/29, 5/7, 7/30, 11/5
19781/28,4/29, 11/11
19794/7, 8/25, 11/10
19804/12, 8/30, 12/6
19814/18, 7/18, 10/3
19821/23, 6/5, 9/4, 11/13
19833/5, 5/7
19841/21, 4/21, 10/20
19852/2, 5/18, 8/24
19861/18, 5/24

There were at least five or six more 40s I assembled a little later on that don’t appear in that table–they wound up on an iPad 2.

Not all the sets listed above have (or can) be rebroadcast by Premiere. 4/7/79 was guest-hosted, and 10/2/76 featured “The 40 Biggest Hits of the Beatles Years.” I haven’t heard all of the other thirty since I started listening to the rebroadcasts, but this is the weekend that the last of them, 11/11/78, finally gets its first turn in the spotlight.

What were my reasons for picking the weeks I did? Sometimes it was a matter of whether all the songs were available digitally; others were chosen because of a specific subset of tunes I liked. A decade-plus out, I can only guess now the exact reasons for 11/11/78’s inclusion, but it’s very likely the combination of excellent tracks we hear in the show’s first hour: “Like a Sunday in Salem,” “Talking in Your Sleep,” “It’s a Laugh,” and perhaps best of all, “The Power of Gold.” The future #24 song, at #32 in its second week on the show, was probably my introduction to Fogelberg’s work.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/30/82: Toni Basil, “Mickey”

Last month I wrote a bit about some stuff that happened in the falls of my junior and senior years of college. This week, it’s a bit about my first autumn at Transy.

As a future math/CS double major, it was clear to sign up for calculus and the intro programming course (which used FORTRAN). I loved science, too, so chemistry wound up on my dance card. Filling things out was the composition class that TU wouldn’t deign to call a composition class—it was “Freshman Studies,” and the theme was Images of Man. Except for the chemistry lab on Tuesday afternoons, it was an all-MWF schedule.

The chemistry class was the largest I had at Transy by far, with an enrollment of maybe 80, and was held in Brown Science Center’s one auditorium—then as now, a high percentage of incoming students were shooting for medical school. It was an exam-heavy course—seven during the semester, every other Friday, plus the final. Maybe it was a weed-out course? The professor, a nice guy once you got to know him, didn’t suffer what he considered foolish questions during class time. I sat about halfway up the room and watched others take the fire.

Calculus wound up my favorite that semester; Dr. Shannon became my mentor, even if he wasn’t my official advisor. It was very hard to score 90% on one of his exams. I am still in awe of a question that stumped me on the first test—tractable if you looked at it the right way, but perfectly foreshadowing upcoming material. I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to accomplish that on anything I’ve given.

Outside of these, it was plenty of writing that fall: code for the CS class, essays on Huxley’s Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, Shaw’s Major Barbara, among others in Images of Man, and a few articles for the campus newspaper, The Rambler. My first by-line appeared in the 10/11/82 issue:

I still have the notes from an interview conducted the previous week with a professor who had presented in the series. (Trivia alert: Liz Smith, the student quoted, is the daughter of the best man at my parents’ wedding.) There are at least two other Rambler articles from that fall with my name attached; I continued to write for it well into my junior year.

My section of Images of Man met at 11:30, so many of us in the class would dodge traffic crossing North Broadway afterward to eat together in the cafeteria—that’s where I formed some of my first solid college-era friendships. James, then my next-door neighbor but soon to be my roomie, was among those; he was wickedly funny, often holding court from the start.

The lunch table was, of course, one of the places where we would opine on the hits of the day. Topics included Billy Joel’s then brand-spanking-new The Nylon Curtain, the lyrics to the Who’s “Athena,” and a song that was almost universally lacking in support, “Mickey,” by choreographer/actress Toni Basil. An unlikely #1 song to begin with—Basil was twenty years older than my fellow freshfolk and I, and this was her first hit—I think we were generally put off by the cheerleader-y cold intro. I didn’t know for years, maybe decades, that it was a Chinnichap tune, nor that the title had undergone a shift in gender (originally “Kitty,” by UK new-wavers Racey—thanks, Music in the Key of E). My opinion on it has softened as time has passed, mostly due to the new-wave influences that I more clearly hear and appreciate now. 

“Mickey” was #30 on this show. Its first five weeks on AT40 went 39-38-34-30-27, hardly portentous. On 11/13, though, it jumped fourteen spots, and its race to the top was on.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/25/75: Jigsaw, “Sky High”

Last October I attempted to determine periods of both high and low turnover on AT40 by looking at four-week rolling averages of # of debut songs from June 76 to August 88 (because I could get the data for those years reasonably easily). It took a little time and some patience, but I finally got back on the case and am ready to report on the first part of the 70s.

I used the Ultimate Music Database for my research, which like Billboard includes the previous week’s Hot 100 position next to each song’s current spot. I just counted the number of songs that were below #40 each the previous week on each page. 100% accuracy isn’t guaranteed (hey, I’m doing this for free—I’ll go back and be extra careful if someone offers a little $), but at the least it’s darn close. And I elected to go the extra mile and cover from 1/3/70, six months before Casey hosted his first show, so we could see the whole of the 70s. That’s the ten-year graph at the top of this post.

(One note: I counted songs that re-entered the show after falling off, like “Ecstasy” by Ohio Players and “Why Me” by Kris Kristofferson from 73, as a debut each time.)

The average number of new songs each week over the decade was 4.66; the standard deviation was 1.33. Even while entering numbers in my spreadsheet, I thought I could identify some of these semi-interesting things:
–Every week between 8/8/70 and 11/21/70 had either 4 or 5 new songs.
–The wilder oscillations in 70 and 71 gave way to a more even up-and-down flow from 72 through much of 74.
–There was incredible activity in October and November of 74. Over those nine weekends, here are the number of new songs: 8-8-4-7-6-6-5-7-5. It’s easy to locate this period, the highest on the graph. I knew about the back-to-back weeks of eight debuts in July 78—glad to learn of this other one. While I’d become aware of songs flying up and down the chart that fall in recent years, I hadn’t fully considered the implications for chart turnover. See this post of Jim Bartlett’s from 2012 for additional details.
–Above average turnover continued well into 75, up until close to the time of this show. There were 32 instances of seven debuts throughout the 70s, and a quarter of them occurred in 75, though two were in the overall slower last two months of the year. (Yet more from JB here.)
–Outside of a couple of brief bursts in the second quarters of 76 and (to a lesser extent) 77, we can now see that November 75 through June 78 was easily the slowest period of the decade. The last eighteen months look more like the 72-74 era.

Two weeks prior to this show, AT40 saw the single highest number of debuts during its classic Casey 6/70-8/88 era: nine.  Here’s a table that gives counts for how many times each number of debuts occurred in the 70s, assuming no mistakes:

# of Debuts# of Times
12
221
376
4138
5148
692
732
87
92

Asides: 1) The other nine-debut week was on 2/7/70—I’d like to research this more, but I have the distinct sense that this kind of single-week turnover was more frequent in the 60s; 2) It feels rather strange that out of seven eight-debut weeks across an entire decade, four of them form two back-to-back pairs.

I wonder if the 10/11/75 show isn’t as remarked upon as it could be in the rebroadcast era because it was guest-hosted, and thus isn’t on Premiere’s or SiriusXM’s radar. Wink Martindale was the host that week; based on what happened in recent years after Dick Clark and Gary Owens passed away, it’s possible that Premiere will provide the show as an extra offering at some later date.

You can go here to see what songs were in that oversized 10/11 cohort. The 10/25 show is the last one all nine were still around. Notes about some of them:

Personal favorite: Abba, “S.O.S.” Still magic to these ears.
Most unusual chart ride: Olivia Newton-John, “Something Better to Do.” It had the highest debut of the bunch, all the way up at #19, but climbed no higher than #13. I think it and the Eagles’ “Please Come Home for Christmas” are the only two 70s songs to debut inside the Top 20 yet fail to go Top 10.
Most well-known today: Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run.” Sometime in the very late 70s or very early 80s, I decided that the two most underappreciated 70s singles, in terms of chart peak relative to their importance, were “Piano Man” and “Born to Run” (they peaked at #25 and #23, respectively). I could go a long time now before I heard “Piano Man” again, but I’ll still crank “Born to Run.”
Most successful at the time: Jigsaw, “Sky High.” These Brits had been slogging away at the music thing for several years when they caught lightning in a bottle with “Sky High.” It went Top 10 in the UK and reached #3 here (we’re hearing it at #25); some minor hits on both sides of the pond followed, including a second Top 40 hit that isn’t nearly as good, “Love Fire.” Jigsaw split up before the decade was over. 

“Sky High” is one of those songs that transports me back in time. No specific moments, but I must have heard it several times that fall of 75 on cold and cloudy days, because that’s the image/feeling/mood it invariably conjures.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/18/86: Janet Jackson, “When I Think of You”

Shortly after I moved to Champaign-Urbana in August of 86, I bought a point-and-shoot camera with some of my graduation gift money. While I’ve never been the shutterbug my wife is, I have managed to record the occasional moment, notable or otherwise. That fall, it looks like I mostly kept an eye out for sights that friends back in Kentucky might appreciate, often as inside references. For instance, this was for my friend Kathy Jo, who often went by KJ:

To call someone on-campus at Transy, you just had to dial the last four digits, which always began with an 8. The number on this seemingly random sign in a dorm window was the same as my friend Suzanne’s extension during my senior year. I likely discovered it on my way to the dining hall where I took my meals that fall (no, I didn’t recall whose number this was, though Suzanne would have been my first guess—I looked it up in the 85-86 campus directory I still have):

And here’s an iconic campus scene I hadn’t had the opportunity to witness firsthand at my tiny college:

It hasn’t been all that long since I browsed through these photos. As I was thinking yesterday about possibly including some in this post, one image came to mind, and in it, I thought I visualized an irritating detail. The picture is the one you see at the top, of the desk and shelf space in my cubby of a dorm room, apparently taken on 10/1/86. You are indeed looking at almost the entire length of the room—the door was at one corner, and that’s the bottom of the window, above the cooling/heating unit, on the right edge. And yes, what I feared was true. Long-time readers may notice it—it’s that decorative plate on the shelf, the plate I claimed back in February was something I’d gotten on my 25th birthday, well over two years in the future. 

Irritating, because now I have to deal with not remembering who gave me the plate (which I clearly treasure), and when, and why. Irritating, because I have to wonder what, if anything, I chose instead on 2/13/89. Irritating, because I’ve conflated two very separate events. Irritating, because I don’t want to be faced with the evidence of self-mythologizing—what else have I gotten wrong from misplaced confidence in my ability to recall the events of the long-gone past? Occasionally, in going through the items I still have, I discover tidbits that would have allowed me greater accuracy in some of my earlier posts—this time, though, the error was egregious.

From time to time I get asked, “How do you remember all this junk?” A partial answer is that apparently sometimes I don’t. Which leads to this: when I think of someone, or something that I believe happened, how can I be sure I’m getting the broad outline, much less any details, right? I’m going to try not to sweat it too much, but I clearly need to be appropriately humble.

Miss Jackson is in her second week at the top with the first of her ten #1s. She made a lot of very good music, but I’m inclined to say “When I Think of You” is my favorite (I’ll admit I’m by far most familiar with the singles from her first two albums). It’s another of those songs where I hear and feel the joy, getting swept along on a very pleasant four-and-a-half minute ride.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/12/85: The Hooters, “And We Danced”

Leading into this countdown’s #28 song, Casey relays a factoid about rock-era songs whose title begins with the word “And:” only one, “And When I Die” from Blood Sweat and Tears, had ever gone Top 10. My curiosity was piqued enough to investigate how many hit song titles have started with this word, so I turned to my trusty Joel Whitburn book, which encompasses Hot 100 hits through 2002. Counting covers, there have been thirty “And” tunes, with just a cool dozen (well, almost, as we’ll see) having made the Top 40. Here are those (other than the BS&T) that hit prior to 85:

“And Get Away,” The Esquires
“And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” Jennifer Holliday
“And I Love Her,” The Beatles
“And I Love You So,” Perry Como
“And Roses and Roses,” Andy Williams
“And That Reminds Me,” Della Reese
“And the Beat Goes On,” The Whispers

Sure enough, none of these made the Top 10—Della Reese (on the Disc Jockey chart in the fall of 57) and the Beatles had come closest, both reaching #12. And neither did “And So It Goes” by Billy Joel or “And Our Feelings” from Babyface, the only two from the post-85 period covered in my Whitburn.

But I’m eliding here. For a while today, I thought Casey’s staff had made a mistake. That’s because while Reese was on the chart, a competing version by Kay Starr was also heading up Disc Jockey, and would reach #9. 

So why doesn’t this count? It turns out that Starr retitled the song to “My Heart Reminds Me,” and Whitburn lumped all versions under one title in his index (if you look for “My Heart Reminds Me,” you’re directed to “And That Reminds Me”).

Goodness knows that Casey made many errors over the course of the eighteen years of classic AT40 shows, but this wasn’t one of them.

The inspiration for Kasem sharing this nugget was, of course, the presence of the #21-peaking “And We Danced.” While I enjoyed “All You Zombies” pretty well back in the summer (I confess I like the “calf/half” couplet more than I probably should), it was this follow-up that really caught my ear—“the room is spinning as she whispers my name” gets me every time, even if the wrong syllable of ‘whispers’ is emphasized. I’m honestly surprised it wasn’t a Top 10 record, and incredulous that Nervous Night‘s third single “Day By Day” went higher, to #18.

Hooters leaders Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman had been toiling on the Philly scene for a number of years before getting this measured measure of success. Each has co-writing credit on a huge hit: Hyman for “Time After Time” (they both had a major role playing on Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual), and Bazilian for Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.”

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/15/77: Electric Light Orchestra, “Telephone Line”

Several months ago, when going through the songs on Silk Degrees, I noted that Year of the Cat and A New World Record had come into my possession at roughly the same time (the last quarter of 77) and speculated that perhaps I’d take a closer look at those two LPs someday. It appears the Electric Light Orchestra’s time has arrived. 

ELO was definitely in the running for my favorite band between 76 and 80—I guess that really started with “Strange Magic” and solidified as the singles from ANWR were released. The album was part of my haul at Christmas; I’ve never really stopped listening to it, and it’s on the short list for my top ten all-time albums. There isn’t a bad track, so ranking its songs is difficult and is going to result in slighting some great tunes. Nonetheless, let’s give it a try. (As I’ve noted before, this kind of exercise isn’t original with me–full credit goes to Jim Bartlett.)

9. “Above the Clouds.” The shortest song on the album, and I guess I’d say there’s less going on in it than the others. I don’t fly often, but when it’s daylight and I have a window seat, the lines, “The only thing you can see/Is the view above the clouds,” are sure to be running through my head.

8.“Mission (A World Record).” Just your average tale about an extraterrestrial sent to observe us Earthlings who winds up having an existential crisis. It’s one I wish I were able to rate higher.

7. “Do Ya.” One of the famed forty-four songs that were on the mix tape series that kicked off this blog. It gets knocked down a bit here because it’s less orchestral and so sounds a little out of place relative to the other tracks. 

6. “Shangri-La.” I just don’t know enough about the history of rock to play ‘spot the influence’ very well, but we’re all aware that Jeff Lynne mined musical nuggets from the 50s and 60s with abandon, particularly the Beatles. The album’s closer, a meditation on love gone wrong, name-checks “Hey Jude,” and that quiet section before the final swell maybe makes me think just a little of the fadeout/return trick the Fab Four did on “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Helter Skelter.”

5. “Tightrope.” We can tell we’re in for a great ride from the get-go of Side 1, Song 1: the long, slow string intro, the change in point of view as verse shifts to chorus, the answered cry for help. Plus, we get the magically-metered, syncopated “The city streets are full of people going nowhere making time.”

4. “So Fine.” I had a big crush on a girl in my church youth group for a big chunk of 79 and 80. My family lived in the next county over from Erlanger, and she and I went to different high schools. In December 79, our boys’ basketball teams faced off in my school’s gym. She was a member of their flag corps; they did a halftime routine to this song that night. Kudos to the coach for her excellent taste!

That’s not why I like “So Fine” so much–that’d be its energy, the buildup throughout the instrumental interlude, and that soaring chorus–but apparently there are some things you don’t forget.

3. “Telephone Line.” I can see the case for “Telephone Line” being the best song on ANWR. It’s certainly another great, dramatic piece. I think I just got a little burned out on it toward the end of its run and never fully recovered.

It’s at #18 on this show, having topped out at #7. “Don’t Bring Me Down” peaked higher, but based on the length of time on the Hot 100, it’s reasonable to say that “Telephone Line” was ELO’s biggest hit. A friend up the street from me owned the translucent green 45—I was thinking that we had a purple copy of the “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” single, but if so, I haven’t seen it in a long time.

2. “Livin’ Thing.” One of the 45s I played over and again during that frigid winter of 77, and still one of my fave AT40 songs from that period. “Ma-Ma-Ma Belle,” the B-side, was quite good as well. 

1. “Rockaria!” A near-perfect distillation of what Lynne appears to want to do on this record: create a contemporary-sounding integration of the elements of classical music and early rock ‘n’ roll. Great storytelling, too, wherein our heroine does that very thing. I loved this dearly from the first time I heard it. 

My father collected a lot of classical music on vinyl in the 60s and 70s, and at least some of it was opera, though I didn’t have the impression he was an ardent fan. Following his death, I took a few hundred slabs of vinyl to the Cincinnati Public Library for them to sell (someone had the opportunity to get some nice stuff, I know).  I kept a few of his albums for myself, mostly to serve as a small reminder of what he’d assembled; one was a 3-LP recording of Carmen.

It seems to me that “Rockaria!” (which I pronounced “Rock-a-REE-ah” back in the day) would have been right up Dad’s alley. Alas, I can’t recall him ever commenting on it. But it’s alright.