Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The 50 Music Project: American...Top 40!

XVI. “Keep Your Feet On the Ground, and Keep Reaching For the Stars”

I can’t remember exactly when it started, but at some point around 1971 or 1972, I became absolutely obsessed with American Top 40, the weekly countdown of Billboard’s Top 40 hits by Casey Kasem. I began keeping lists of the number one songs, and to this day if someone asks me, for instance, “what was the number one song in the third week of June in 1973?,” there is a good chance that I’ll be able to name it.

This section was also a lot of fun to put together - there were a lot of songs here that I didn't own (at least not on CD), which necessitated numerous perusals through the used bins at Dimple Records in Elk Grove and The Beat on J Street in downtown Sacramento.

American Pie, Don McLean

When I was in the sixth grade, this was one of the most exotic songs I’d ever heard. It was fascinating; at the time, I had no idea what it meant, and no idea of the meaning of “the day the music died.” While McLean went on to have other hits, this was truly a one-shot. Glorious, but unique.

Sunshine (Go Away Today), Jonathan Edwards

This was one of the very last songs added to the collection, thanks to heavy rotation on the commercial in which it now appears.

Let’s Stay Together, Al Green
Heart of Gold, Neil Young
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Roberta Flack

Lean On Me, Bill Withers
Alone Again, Naturally, Gilbert O’Sullivan
Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl), Looking Glass
Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress), The Hollies

In June of 1972, my family took its first trip to Southern California, visiting Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Japanese Deer Gardens, the Hollywood Wax Museum, and other highlights. We ended up spending a lot of time in the old reliable Kingswood Estate, and nearly always had the radio on. These four songs comprised the soundtrack of the trip, along with “Take it Easy,” which appears later in this collection. In particular, Gilbert O’Sullivan’s lament was in heavy rotation; it was quite possibly the most depressing huge hit in the history of modern pop music. But I have to say that it still works, even today.

Probably the biggest find of the entire search while I was putting the collection together was finding three of these four songs on an old collection, Billboard Hot 100 Hits of 1972, at Rasputin Records in San Francisco. It's a great store - five stories high, and to get to the top two stories, you have to be taken up in an elevator, run by an elevator operator who stands there listening to music on a portable CD player on his headphones. Too cool.

Rocket Man, Elton John

The very first album that I bought with my own money was “Honky Chateau” by Elton John, on which this song appears. It remains one of his very greatest songs.

Burning Love, Elvis Presley

One last blast of greatness from the King, before the rot really began to set in.

I’ll Be Around, The Spinners

Thom Bell was a genius; the true heir to Burt Bacharach. His production and arrangements for The Spinners, The Stylistics, and others, was never less than sublime.

I Can See Clearly Now, Johnny Nash
You’re So Vain, Carly Simon
Superstition, Stevie Wonder

These three were all #1 songs, either in late 1972 or early 1973. All remain as vital today as they were then, and can be heard on just about any given day on your typical oldies station.

Love Train, The O’Jays

I often wonder what the O’Jays must think of their great song of world peace and harmony having been turned into a light beer commercial.

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, Jim Croce

Jim Croce was, without question, one of the most unpretentious stars ever to come down the pike. I never saw him wear anything but jeans, and rarely saw him without a cigar nearby. Were it not for his untimely death, I suspect he would have remained popular even today.

Reeling in the Years, Steely Dan

Back when Steely Dan was still a band, and had yet to morph into the Fagen & Becker show. One of the all-time great “roll the windows down, turn the radio up, put the pedal to the gas” songs.

Betcha By Golly Wow, The Stylistics

One of the great, classic rock quotes of all time: “James Taylor is merely a wimp – Russell Thompkins, Jr. is a Wimp God," Robert Christgau

Cover of the Rolling Stone, Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show
So Very Hard to Go, Tower of Power
Kodachrome, Paul Simon
Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight & The Pips
Hello It’s Me, Todd Rundgren
Ramblin’ Man, The Allman Brothers
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John
I Got A Name, Jim Croce
Knocking On Heaven’s Door, Bob Dylan
Show and Tell, Al Wilson
Takin’ Care of Business, Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Come And Get Your Love, Redbone
Rock Your Baby, George McRae
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, Steely Dan
Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd


Kilroy_60 said...

You have a great list of songs here. I especially enjoy the narrative.

Hopefully you won't mind my using your project as a resource list. Looking at your choices I can see I'm definitely going to have to put together another WHST Radio Playlist.

You may enjoy looking at edition 1 and 2.

Thanks for the great motivator to add to that little project of mine.


Jeff said...

Thank you! And yes, feel free to "resource away." And stay tuned...lots more to come!