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Town to town, up and down the dial.

Some half-formed thoughts in my head, and I may be too busy to write for a bit, so I’ll feed the beast with a little more ARSA trawling.

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I’m the kind of person who will cheerfully look at a book of maps for … maybe not quite hours, but extended periods of time, anyway. Longer than most sensible adults probably would. So while I’m not that especially well-traveled, I have a decently developed sense of where a lot of places are.

One of the side benefits of the invaluable ARSA online database of local radio airplay charts, then, is that it occasionally introduces me to cities and towns I’ve never heard of. These charts aren’t just playlists; every so often, they’re travelogues.

Here’s a sampling of ARSA surveys that have nothing in common except (a) they’re all dated December 14, and (b) they’re all from places that are marked “here be dragons” on my mental map.

Or at least they were until now. Hey, who needs atlases?

CJET-AM, Smiths Falls, Ontario, Dec. 14, 1957: Maybe it’s cheating to include Canada in this roundup, since of course I don’t know other countries as well as my own. I’ve spent time staring at maps of Canada too, but it’s a wicked big place, so I excuse myself for not having it memorized.

Anyway, Smiths Falls is about 45 miles from Ottawa, is home to about 9,000 people, and historically owes its success to a couple of railway lines that run through town. Brooke Henderson, one of Canada’s most successful female golfers, comes from Smiths Falls, as do former NHL players Terry Carkner and Gary McAdam.

None of them were old enough to notice what CJET was spinning in December 1957 — a mix of the past (Sinatra; Teresa Brewer; “Liechtensteiner Polka”) and the developing future (“At the Hop” and the Everlys).

Wedged somewhere between is Bill Justis’ “Raunchy.” The following year, a world away from Smiths Falls, a young George Harrison earned entrance into a fledgling Liverpool group called the Quarry Men by playing “Raunchy” wherever and whenever asked — including, legend says, atop the second deck of a city bus during a ride across town.

There is no record of George ever learning to play “Liechtensteiner Polka.”

WOHP-AM, Bellefontaine, Ohio, Dec. 14, 1963: Have you ever gotten high in Bellefontaine? Well, if you’ve ever been there, you have: Wiki says the highest point in the state of Ohio is in Bellefontaine.

For those wishing a more defined frame of reference, Bellefontaine is also the county seat of Logan County; the home of about 14,000 people; and about 50 miles northwest of Columbus, in the western part of the state. Like Smiths Falls, some helpfully located railroad lines helped put it on the map. Famous locals include Norman Vincent Peale.

This chart is no great claim to fame for Bellefontaine. In those last few calm weeks before Beatlemania, WOHP was giving the Singing Nun lots of spins, along with Bobby Rydell, Johnny Tillotson’s “Talk Back Trembling Lips,” and the Caravelles’ “You Don’t Have To Be a Baby To Cry,” which I once heard Casey Kasem play as an AT40 extra on some long-ago Seventies show. (It stuck out as grossly as you’d think it would.)

There’s a couple of good early Beach Boys records to be had here, and “Louie Louie,” and a few credible early Motown hits, and George Jones’ “My Mom & Santa Claus” sneaking in to add some seasonal flavor.

Still, probably the most interesting part of this chart is the improbable rises and declines of certain records — like Jan & Dean jumping from No. 32 last week to No. 4 this week, or Bobby Vinton going from No. 28 to No. 3. Almost makes you think they ranked the chart by pulling scraps of paper out of a Santa hat.

Anyway, I had to pick a song from the countdown, so I picked this one, because it’s all kinds of freakin’ dreadful, and thank God George Harrison set more ambitious goals for himself after he learned to play “Raunchy.”

KDIX-AM, Dickinson, North Dakota, Dec. 14, 1968: Could you find any city in North Dakota on a map? If you can, good on you.

Dickinson, as it happens, is in the southwest part of the state. About 18,000 people lived there in 2010, but thanks to the oil boom of recent years, some current estimates put the city’s population above 30,000 nowadays. Big doin’s in Dickinson, apparently.

There’s also a dinosaur museum, a state university, Theodore Roosevelt Airport, and the Paragon Lanes Bowling Alley. Former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan comes from Dickinson, as does Seventies NFL player Doug Beaudoin, an old card of whom I have somewhere in my folders.

But what you really want to know: Was KDIX-1230 (which plays classic country nowadays) swingin’ in December 1968?

Well, the playlist is pretty good but not knockout great. A lot of great artists are represented, but not always with the songs I happen to like best — like Aretha with “See Saw,” or the Beatles with “Hey Jude.”

The Dickinsonians were hearing “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Wichita Lineman” and “For Once In My Life,” so they were doing pretty well all the same.

They were also hearing this song, by a band that had just played its final concerts and broken up about three weeks before. “White Room” is supporting evidence for my steadily growing conviction that the best and most interesting music Eric Clapton ever played was in Cream, and he’s thus been going downhill (not always steadily) since around the time this survey appeared.

WFAW-AM, Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Dec. 14, 1968:¬†My man Jim Bartlett has probably been to Fort Atkinson, as it’s in his general neck of the woods in southern Wisco. I couldn’t ever recall hearing of it, though.

It turns out to be the home of about 13,000 people and the marvelously named Rock River, which floods the downtown every so often. It’s named for a guy who killed Native Americans (or, more accurately, it’s named for a fort that’s named for a guy who killed Native Americans). Former Chicago Cubs manager Charlie Grimm was from Fort Atkinson, as was Helmut Ajango, the architect who designed Wisconsin’s legendary Gobbler Motel.

So what was WFAW (easy call letters to decode, those) spinning? Not quite the same stuff they were hearing in Dickinson, North Dakota, that same week. Some pretty good stuff shows up in the lower half, like “Crimson and Clover,” the Beach Boys’ unjustly unsuccessful “Bluebirds Over the Mountain,” Canned Heat, Dusty Springfield, and Young-Holt Unlimited’s “Soulful Strut.”

While there are no Beatles tunes on the top 40 here — not even “Hey Jude” — the White Album sits atop the station’s brief list of hot LPs. Wonder if the WFAW DJs were trying to find ways to slip “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey” or “Cry Baby Cry” into the hitbound rotation?

Anyway, I wasn’t familiar with the song at No. 30 … but I had a sneaking suspicion that Chicago’s garage-rocking Shadows of Knight doing a song called “Shake” pretty much had to be worth hearing. And it was.

KBYG-AM, Big Spring, Texas, December 14, 1968: Big Spring is south of Lubbock and west of Abilene, and is located a little bit east of the bottom of the west Texas cutaway, if that helps you picture it a bit better.

It’s a relative Gotham by the standards of this post, with more than 27,000 residents. There used to be an Air Force base (Webb) there, though it closed in the late ’70s. And you might have seen it on the big screen: The opening scenes in Midnight Cowboy, showing Cowboy Joe Buck leaving the sticks for New York, were apparently shot in and around Big Spring.

Famous Big Springers include actress and singer Betty Buckley and a bunch of NFL players, such as barefoot kicker Tony Franklin, who presumably found his technique easier to execute in Big Spring than it was in Foxborough, Mass.

So yeah, the survey. Not much different here that wasn’t being played in Fort Atkinson or Dickinson — though I don’t remember seeing Tammy Wynette’s warhorse “Stand By Your Man” on those other two surveys. Also a good glut of soul music at the top of the chart, with Eddie Floyd, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Johnnie Taylor lined up in places two through five (behind that quintessential soul performer, Bobby Vinton, holding Number One. Can you dig it?)

Stuck for a tune to choose, I picked “Picking Wild Mountain Berries” by Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson pretty much at random. I was expecting some sort of folkie goofiness but this turns out to be kinda soulful and perfectly likeable. (Apparently Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn later covered this, and I’m sure theirs is probably the better-known version.)

CKBC-AM, Bathurst, New Brunswick, Dec. 14, 1969: You could look at a map for a while and not see Bathurst, New Brunswick. It’s wedged way up at the northern end of the province, and has one of those Wiki entries that tells every single noteworthy moment in town history even though none of them are memorable to people from away.

(One cool Bathurst fact: The area is home to an endangered and rare butterfly, Coenonympha nipisiquit, or the maritime ringlet, which feeds on salt-meadow plants. That’s pretty awesome. About 13,000 people live there too.)

I just wrote about a December 1969 survey not too long ago, and this one has the same highlights as the last one — “Fortunate Son” (at Number One — did Canadians understand this song the way Americans did?); “Something” and “Come Together” getting a lot of play; “No Time” and “Whole Lotta Love” both breaking onto the chart; and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” fading off of it.

Pick hit? Well, we were just talking about Midnight Cowboy, so hell yes, you get the Grand Twins of the Twin Grands:

KKIQ-FM, Livermore, California, December 14, 1979: I’m stretching a little bit here. The name “Livermore, California” is vaguely familiar — it sounds like I’ve heard it before — but I have no idea where it is or what they do there that’s fantastic, so I’m gonna count it for the purposes of this post.

It’s in Alameda County — the Bay Area, that is — with almost 90,000 people. It’s known for research laboratories (the context in which I remembered it — the word “Livermore” seemed to go in my mind with “laboratory”) and vineyards. So it’s a pretty big place, just overshadowed by bigger and more famous places that surround it. The world’s longest-lasting light bulb is there, too.

Famous Livermorians include Conrad Bain and Jill Whelan of ’70s-’80s TV fame; Baseball Hall of Famer Randy Johnson; and boxer Max Baer. You may also have seen scenes of Livermore in Bill Owens’ photography collection, Suburbia.

So how were the tunes in the last few weeks of the Seventies? So-so. I happen to kinda like “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” And I’ll never complain about a chart with “Dream Police” in the Top Ten, although the song’s national Top 40 chart run had already ended by that point. A lot of the rest is a bit on the bland side — though “Video Killed the Radio Star,” sneaking up through the hitbounds, points the way toward the decade to come.

Couldn’t find a surprising, unusual or unexpected video from this chart, so I settled for somebody else who turned out to be pretty big in the ’80s, as he appeared on national TV about a month prior to this countdown.


Odds, ends, etc.

I should really change to a new design here at some point. Project for this weekend?

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The move to condemn “Baby It’s Cold Outside” seems to grow with momentum each Christmas season, and I agree with it.

You know what other Christmas tune is on my crap-list? “The Man With The Bag.” Too smug and jaunty by half. It reeks of stale ring-a-ding-ding.

(As opposed to stale Ring Dings, which is unpossible, because Ring Dings don’t get stale.)

I would compile a list of favorite and least favorite Christmas tunes in this space, except:

1) My list of absolute favorites would be essentially coterminous with the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, with “Merry Xmas Everybody” thrown in on the side.

2) I’ve somehow raised the avoidance of Christmas music to a fine art. I don’t choose to listen to it, because the world is full of more interesting stuff I haven’t heard yet. And I don’t hang out in places where it gets played — mainly malls. So I simply don’t hear it very much.

And even the holiday songs I like least, and the songs people kvetch about most, don’t bother me if I never have to actually hear them.

So I’ll spare the world some complaining. It could probably use that.

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What am I listening to? A two-CD set of bossa nova from the library, for one thing. This jam is the highlight of the set; I’ve tweeted it once or twice but will put it here as well.

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One online resource I really haven’t plumbed deeply enough is Project Gutenberg. I’ve never really liked reading books off a screen, but I’m sure there are books there that would do me good to get my head around.

A little while ago, after falling down a Wiki wormhole, I spent an afternoon skim-reading Owen Johnson’s 1912 novel Stover at Yale.

The book is pretty well off the cultural radar nowadays, and rightfully so. But upon its publication, it was apparently a topic of hot social debate regarding “today’s youth” and the educational role of colleges. (Wiki quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald as calling Stover at Yale a “textbook” for young men of his generation; I can see that.)

The plot is simple. Former prep-school BMOC Dink Stover arrives at Yale and encounters the full spectrum of classmates, from socially proper, Skull-and-Bones-or-bust political players to discontents who scorn the entire Yale social system. He tries both sides (when he’s not starring on the football field) and eventually has to choose his path.

Seen through cynical 21st-century eyes, young Stover’s struggle is none too compelling: You just¬†know a WASP prep-school grad turned star Yale football player is going to succeed in the American society of his time, whether he gets tapped for Bones or wastes every night in a haze of ale at Mory’s. All the self-examination he goes through in his four years in New Haven seems like wasted time when you know an office at Bethlehem Steel is waiting either way.

If any scenes stick out, it’s the ones on the football field. Dink Stover and his fellow Elis play a form of football unrecognizable to us today — the brutal, primordial push-pull-and-shove scrum game that used to kill a couple of young collegians each season.

The lengthy recap of the Yale-Princeton game (Harvard-Yale wasn’t fully established as The Game yet, apparently) also makes Stover’s mental gymnastics seem unimportant; in this stretch of the book, he’s fortunate not to get physically maimed.

I wonder if it’s possible to write a truly timeless coming-of-age story? I guess they’re all part and parcel of their time and place. If any writer was skilled enough to carry it off, it wasn’t Owen Johnson.

The book can be found here, anyway, if you’re interested.

Green Mountains represent.

Gotta love when you write words upon words upon words and then you’re laying down to sleep and you think of some more.

Yesterday’s lengthy recap of December 4 radio surveys included charts from four New England states.

It could easily have been five. I had two or three surveys open from Maine stations, too. But they got lost in the shuffle of all those open tabs, and in the end I didn’t choose any of them for inclusion.

As I thought about it later, though, I said to myself: Wait a minute. Did I even look at any surveys from Vermont?

I set about pursuing that thought. And after a few minutes searching the invaluable ARSA database of local airplay charts, I decided a follow-up post was in order.

New England’s only landlocked state is represented by a mere 52 surveys in the ARSA collection, which numbers 86,678 surveys as of this writing. (As an ex-journalist, I’m not even gonna attempt to calculate what percentage that is.)

By comparison, Massachusetts has 3,682 surveys in the database. Connecticut has 2,770. Tiny Rhode Island has 512, almost 10 times as many as Vermont. (I can do that math.) Even New Hampshire, Vermont’s mirror-image evil twin, has 235.

I can think of several possible reasons why Vermont is so under-represented — including the most obvious one. The database is a labor of love among radio freaks willing to scan and share their old surveys, and apparently the rolling hills of Vermont have not yet produced any such people.

Rather than spend lots of time and space on the whys and wherefores, I’m just going to do what I did yesterday, except this time I’m going to focus entirely on surveys from Vermont.

So serve yourself an imaginary creemee and get ready to time-travel:

WTWN-AM, St. Johnsbury, June 8, 1957: St. Johnsbury is way the heck up north, on the interstate but still pretty well off the beaten path. Indie singer-songwriter Neko Case lives there now, apparently.

St. Johnsbury wasn’t so far out back of beyond that it could escape Elvis’s spell in 1957, though. The future King holds the No. 1 spot with “All Shook Up,” followed by a parade of the well-known (Chuck Berry, Ricky Nelson) and the less celebrated (Ken Copeland, Rusty Draper.)

Shame we don’t get to see any more than 10 records on this chart. I’d love to know what sort of obscurities (maybe even homegrown!) were sneaking onto the radio here at the end of the highway in the early days of rock n’ roll.

Pick hit: I could have chosen something obscure here … but really, it doesn’t get any better than this, in 1957 or 2018.

WSYB-AM, Rutland, April 8, 1967: A couple of transcendent records (mainly those by the Beatles); a stack of very good, era-defining records (“Ruby Tuesday,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Happy Together,” “Kind of a Drag,” “For What It’s Worth”); and the Hollies checking in once again with the sneaky-catchy “On A Carousel.” I might have to put these guys on my dance card for 2019.

Pick hit: Ah, but all of the above are swept away like autumn leaves by the perfection of a song that spoke so deeply to the soul of Vermont that DJs in Rutland couldn’t help but play it.

Take it away, Don Ho:

WDOT-AM, Burlington, September 6, 1968: The fantastic comes fast n’ furious here.

You want rousing? You got “People Got to Be Free.” You want catchy but unbalanced? “Hello, I Love You.” You want squidgy and psychedelic? Hang around for “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” You want hard-rocking and psychedelic? “Journey to the Center of The Mind” is up next. You dig soul? Aretha says a little prayer. Hell, you like Moby Grape? Even Moby Grape gets played here.

And, lest you think the mix couldn’t possibly get better, there’s a little chune called “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” on the up-and-coming list.

(I even like some of the songs I don’t know, just based on their titles. How could songs called “Eyes of a New York Woman” or “Barefoot in Baltimore” possibly be anything less than boss?)

Vermont might have been a great place to spend the summer of ’68: No riots, no street hassle, but all the great music.

Pick hit: Also from the up-and-coming list, a quartet of young Philadelphians (Carson Van Osten, Stewkey Antoni, Thom Mooney, and some lanky goon on lead guitar) light the fuse on a classic nugget of crunch-pop and stand stock still as it detonates into fireworks all around them.

WCFR-AM, Springfield, September 25, 1970: I have no idea where the hell Springfield, Vermont, even is. Turns out it’s a town of 9,400 people in the southeast part of the state.

(According to its Wiki entry, the U.S. government identified Springfield, Vermont, as the seventh-most-important enemy bombing target during World War II, because of its manufacture of machine tools. Hmmmmm … where have I heard that sort of anecdote before?)

Anyways, this is one of those countdowns that weakens as it gets to the very top — though WCFR gets minor pop-geek credit for giving lots of spins to Hotlegs, a studio band that more or less morphed into the much more successful 10cc.

Pick hit: I could choose Aretha going to church, the Kinks going to the gay bar, Sugarloaf going to space, or Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band going to the street corner. Instead, I pick Three Dog Night as they go …

WSKI-AM, Montpelier, September 1, 1973: Now here’s a chart innovation I’m not used to seeing: A pop Top 20, an MOR Top 10 and a country Top 10 all on the same survey. I wonder how they split up the broadcast time on WSKI, back in the day.

Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” appears on the MOR and country charts, and I imagine it made its way onto the pop chart as well. Beyond that, we’ve got the familiar end-of-summer-’73 mix here, with the Chi-Lites providing the groove, Alice Cooper providing the growl, Charlie Daniels providing the corn, and Paul Simon providing the gospel.

Pick hits: Just to go above and beyond, I’ll choose one from each list. On the pop list we find this toon, which seems to sag a little bit under the weight of its unwieldy title. (People of a certain age from Montpelier will still insist that Stealers Wheel was not a one-hit wonder, because they remember the second hit.)

From the MOR chart I choose this dopey bit of boogie-flavored fluff, because at least it isn’t “Alone Again Naturally.”

And off the country chart, you get one of the darker story-songs to be found on hitbound vinyl, sung by a girl too young to drive, and laced with some truly improbable vocal vibrato:

WDEV-AM, Waterbury, April 15, 1974: I’m mainly drawn to this one by the LP chart. It boasts a couple of selections from outside the star-machine mainstream — guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke; Jimmy Buffett, then a country-pop up-and-comer; and septuagenarian fiddler Papa John Creach. (Vermonters seem like the sort of salt-of-the-earth folks who appreciate a good fiddler.)

As for the singles? A little soggy in that ’74 style. Some hits (“Jet,” “Help Me,” “Dancing Machine”) but more misses.

Pick hit: I cannot recall ever hearing this song before or even hearing of this song before, so I’m gonna go with it. (Plus, I do find it kind of appealing in its sort of tossed-off, hyperactive way.)

Apparently it peaked at No. 59 nationally a week or so before this chart was compiled. If Wiki is to be believed, this was the first single issued on Casablanca Records, the notorious madhouse of a record label that later gave us KISS, Parliament/Funkadelic, Donna Summer, the Village People and much more.

Bill (now Barbra) Amesbury is Canadian, and fared better in the charts in his native country than he did here. Perhaps he snuck across the border, lit’rally or figuratively, to land in Vermonters’ ears.

WVMT-AM, Burlington, July 22, 1980: It would be cool to discover a chart that showed that, here in their quiet isolated pocket of America, Vermonters were hip to some unique trend or style that couldn’t be found elsewhere.

No such luck with this chart, alas: Top 40 radio in the summer of ’80 was just as beige and soft and enervated in Vermont as it was in the other 49 states.

Pick hit: There are only two of these songs I would want to hear. (I also count two others that I’m not clamoring for, but wouldn’t turn the dial away from.)

My choice is a tossup between Olivia Newton-John embodying the alluring yet reassuring Eternal Muse on “Magic,” or Genesis rewriting Sly Stone on “Misunderstanding” … and yes, folks, you can always count on me to pick wrong.

WXXX-FM, South Burlington, November 18, 1988: More of those tunes I was trying to avoid as a teenager. (And successfully so; I couldn’t sing you “Waiting For A Star To Fall” by Boy Meets Girl if you menaced me with a forklift.)

I’m only posting this one because, back when it happened, the rise of Guns N’ Roses was a marvelous thing for a teenage boy to behold — the chainsaw-voiced Axl Rose and his four nogoodnik compatriots, clear spiritual heirs to the Stones and Aerosmith, routing pre-fab pop out of their way as they roared to prominence. (Given all that’s come after for G’n’R, it’s a little embarrassing to write that sentence now. But back then, they meant something.)

This week in the Burlington area, bad news on ten legs skidded riotously into the Top 10. And really, you gotta have that happen in your rock n’ roll narrative every so often, even though there’s always a price to pay later on.

Pick hit: I make it a policy to choose something I haven’t already raved about for this space … but there’s nothing I’d want to hear here except “Welcome To The Jungle.” Guess I’ll toss a bone to Cheap Trick; they’re nice guys, and they were great once.

The echoes of December 4.

Been a while since I trawled the invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts for blog-fodder. (Gotta take a break from putting new stuff in the ears every so often.)

I think we’ll see what December 4 has to offer us through the years, with a focus on New England, since I seem to be pretty hyper-focused there already.

WPRO-FM, Providence, Rhode Island, Dec. 4, 1959: WPRO was the home of Walter “Salty” Brine, the Rhode Island radio legend eternally remembered for his zesty foul-weather exclamation, No school in Fostah-Glostah!

Unfortunately, this survey from those dead days between Chuck Berry and the Beatles doesn’t have much in the way of swing, juice or rebop. Even the better performers here — from Fats Domino to Santo & Johnny — aren’t represented by their best tunes. Might as well turn off the radio and go to school, kids.

Pick hit: None. I checked out a bunch of tunes I didn’t know, hoping to find something that rocked even a little bit, but nope.

WHIL-AM, Boston, Massachusetts, Dec. 4, 1961: Hmmm, a pre-Beatles survey from the tight-lipped, white-knuckled city of blue laws. How good could this possibly be?

Well, there’s some dreck — Lawrence Welk hovers just outside the Top 10, as does a chunk of overripe hokum called “God, Country and My Baby,” which reminds me of nothing less than the “Do It For Our Country” sequence from Grease 2. (Ain’t wasting anyone’s time with a link to that; either you know it, or you don’t know how lucky you are.)

But the news from Bosstown ain’t all bad. You’ve got “The Twist,” and “Please Mr. Postman,” and “Moon River,” and Wanda Jackson, and one of the all-time Elvis records (“Can’t Help Falling In Love”) on the up-and-coming list. And is that gospel goddess Sister Rosetta Tharpe, of all people, two notches above Mantovani on the LP list? Not bad for 1961, methinks.

Pick hit: As covered by Oedipus and the Mothers, Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.”

WBZ-AM, Boston, Massachusetts, Dec. 4, 1965, and WHYN-AM, Springfield, Massachusetts, Dec. 4, 1965: For them what like to compare two stations at the same time, we’ve got two AM blasters from the Bay State — one from the eastern half, one from the west.

At a quick glance, the differences are pretty minor. WBZ is riding a 45 by Liverpudlian singer-comedian Ken Dodd that WHYN doesn’t seem to have, while WHYN is spinning a Sam the Sham record that isn’t on WBZ’s chart. Neither chart is the absolute peak of Sixties genius, but they’re both OK, with the Four Seasons holding down the Number One spot on both.

The new two-sided Beatles single has entered both charts in the mid-teens in its first week, because 1965. Meanwhile, the longer WHYN chart still has a spot for Them’s “Mystic Eyes;” only about two years later, lead singer Van Morrison would be in Massachusetts running down a new artistic vision.

Pick hit: Almost went with the Byrds’ majestic, sobersided “Turn Turn Turn,” but in the end I gotta side with insouciant catchy pop every time. Look at the pic on their album cover and tell me these guys — mod, prankish, tight-knit and urban — wouldn’t be a squee-inducing boy band in the year 2018.

Ladies and gentlemen, the pride of Kama Sutra Records:

WFEA-AM, Manchester, New Hampshire, Dec. 4, 1966: The Beatles apparently spent the week swimming around in their money, Scrooge McDuck-style. What’s holding the fort on Cow Hampshire radio in their absence?

Well, only some northern songs — like Donovan’s hypnotic “Mellow Yellow” sharing time with Mitch Ryder’s frenetic “Devil With A Blue Dress,” or Wilson Pickett’s gritty “Mustang Sally” sharing space with Frank Sinatra’s suave “That’s Life,” or the garage-rock of ? and the Mysterians riding alongside the smooth, studio-manicured “Good Vibrations.” Oh, yeah, and two of the Monkees’ better tunes, too.

I think I could have listened to this station for a while before I reached for the dial.

Pick hit: Do the Hollies get their critical and popular due? I suspect there might be some gold in their catalog that deserves rediscovery. I prefer “Carrie-Anne” to this but I prefer this to others.

WRKO-AM, Boston, Massachusetts, December 4, 1969: For the most part, this chart seems to have a gossamer softness about it. If I wanted to make gross sociological generalizations based on a list of 30 records, I’d say this chart is the collective sound of a society that’s been ground down by the preceding decade and is content to rest its load and breathe a while before the new one arrives.

There are one or two notable exceptions, though. Like the unsparing AM-radio hurricane that is CCR’s “Fortunate Son.” (It’s double-backed with “Down On The Corner,” which I guess makes the medicine go down a little easier.)

And then there’s my pick hit for the week, five minutes of jagged, grungy, unremittingly randy crotch-thrust with a big ungainly slice of industrial musique concrete shoved in the middle.

It’s one of those songs that’s assumed such a familiar place in the classic-rock canon that some of us maybe forget it was on Top 40 radio once … that DJs would spin “Someday We’ll Be Together” or “Holly Holy” or “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and then throw over to this.

“Every inch of my love,” indeed.

WDRC-AM, Hartford, Connecticut, December 4, 1970: Connecticut’s nice in December, so long as there’s no ice storms, so let’s go there.

Whadda we have? Well, things get a little soft close to the bottom of this chart. But the top 40 or so is solid all the way around, from “The Immigration Song” (sic!) to “Super Bad” to “We Gotta Get You A Woman” to “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” to “Stoned Love” to a pretty wondrous top five. Yes, a prime time to turn on your radio in the Insurance Capital of the World.

Pick hit: The sunniest, bounciest, warmest, earwormiest, cuddliest power-pop toon since … well, since Dec. 4, 1965, in Boston. Knock down the old gray wall.

WAVZ-AM, New Haven, Connecticut, December 4, 1971: A year later, we clamp our little plastic transistor radio next to our ear while we wait for the commuter train and see what’s groovin’ locally.

Al Green wouldn’t hit Number One nationally with “Let’s Stay Together” until the following February, but here he is, all doe eyes, just starting to smoove his way up the chart. Good job spotting a hot up-and-comer, New Haven. (Meanwhile, “Anticipation” and “American Pie” are both just getting started as pick-hits. I’d say they fulfilled their early chart promise, no?)

Up nearer the top, the chart is another classic ’70s ragbag, with “Theme from Shaft” and “Desiderata” near each other in the Top 10, and Aretha’s no-nonsense “Rock Steady” neatly cleaving a block of Bread, Three Dog Night and David Cassidy. I think a couple other charts in this blog post are heavier pound-for-pound, but this is a pretty entertaining mix of stuff, here.

Pick hit: Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff were not quite world-conquerors in late ’71, but they’d get there soon, and records like this put them there. Joe Simon’s vulnerable, moaning croon makes you see the water coming over him.

WPJB-FM, Providence, Rhode Island, December 4, 1975: I was just listening to Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns the other day and thinking it was a much better album than I remembered. So, groove-‘n’-a-gas to find it at Number One on the LP chart this week in Prahvidence.

Four of the other nine records on the album chart are greatest hits compilations. I was gonna cite that as an example of the weakness of the music market in December 1975. But then I remembered that best-ofs are often released in time to take advantage of the Christmas market. So it’s neither a shame nor a surprise that they would be doing big business on this chart.

As for the singles, there’s an awful lot of solid smoke on this chart. Whether you like your pop wistful (“Theme from Mahogany,” “My Little Town,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” “Times Of Your Life”) … or randy (“Miracles, “Do It Again,” “Love To Love You Baby”) … or tall-walkin’ funky (“That’s The Way I Like It,” “Nights on Broadway,” “Love Rollercoaster”) … or glammy (“Rock N’ Roll All Night,” “Fox On The Run,” even “Evil Woman”) or … you get the idea. There’s a crazy mix of stuff here, and almost all of it is really good.

Pick hit: I gotta be true to my teenage roots here. Going back to the infamous B.A.L.L.S. tape, we have a newly crowned bunch of New England homegrown heroes, showing the sappy-melodramatic chops that would still be landing them big chart hits two decades and fifty rehab stints later. Honey, what you done to your head?

WAVZ-AM, New Haven, Connecticut, Dec. 4, 1978: Boy, that LP chart is a real fender-bender — live albums from Jethro Tull and Aerosmith; Steve Martin’s Wild and Crazy Guy; disco from Chic; punk-blues from the Stones and cleaned-up Marin County something-or-other from the Grateful Dead.

The singles chart is not a great one by Seventies standards; on a scale of one to 10, I’d maybe give it a five, or six tops. Donna Summer, the Stones, EW&F, and a raunchy doubleback from Queen are the best of the bunch. I dig the Livingston Taylor and Olivia Newton-John tunes classin’ up the low end, too.

Pick hit: This is a cocaine-fueled trifle by most any standard — the most minor and pointless of songs. But the style, poses and swagger of Freddie Mercury put it across. I hope Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor still say a silent prayer each morning that they lucked into one of the greatest showmen of their generation to front their band. (And y’know, I don’t like Star Wars either, come to think of it.)

WDLW-AM, Waltham, Massachusetts, Dec. 4, 1981: Boston’s best country grooves! I wouldn’t know any of these tunes if they came up and poked a Bowie knife into my ribs. But I’ll post this chart anyway, and maybe one of my half-dozen readers who knows from country can tell me whether it was a good week or not.

Pick hit: Again, I don’t know this song from Adam. I’m just picking it because I love the idea that, in high-tech eastern Massachusetts engineer-land, there were people getting off to a song called “Red Neckin’ Love Makin’ Night.”

Hello, baby, Conway here, let him lay this in your ear:

WKCI-FM, New Haven, Connecticut, December 4, 1987: All the other weeks in this blog post, exceptin’ maybe the first, were weeks I might have enjoyed being around for. This is a week I was there for (I was 14) but I was busy trying to sit it out; I would have been getting my classic-rock bona fides in order then, listening to Sgt. Pepper’s or Abbey Road or Hot Rocks 1964-1971 or Trilogy instead.

Most of these I’d be no happier to hear today than I was in 1987. I’ll give the chart a few points for “Got My Mind Set On You;” Michael Jax’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which under its big-shouldered Eighties trappings captures a little of his boyish joyousness; plus maybe “Valerie,” “Cherry Bomb” and “Brilliant Disguise.”

Pick hit: In retrospect, INXS’s gifts were fairly modest, and most of them had to do with the way Michael Hutchence looked in leather. They did manage to come up with one slinky, sexy and undeniably great single — a thoroughly deserved Number One as of the following January.

Stories, Christmas and otherwise.

Today hasn’t been nearly as eventful as yesterday. Today I went for an eight-mile run in the rain, and did a bunch of Christmas shopping and donating, and some cooking, and a load of laundry. One of those kinds of days.

I’ve still made time to get something new between my ears today, which has been kind of a goal of mine lately. (This pursuit doesn’t necessarily make me any smarter or more worldly. But at least I’m not spending my time with Grand Funk Railroad.)

The new jag is something I’m coming to quite enjoy: The radio monologues of Jean Shepherd.

I’ve known Shepherd’s name for years but I’ve never gotten to know his work. I’ve never seen A Christmas Story, his best-known contribution to mainstream American culture, and I don’t expect I will this year either. (I don’t know why it doesn’t interest me, but it doesn’t. At this point I know most of the riffs anyway, thanks to the Internet.)

A while ago, during one of my pillage-trips into the Internet Archive, I discovered that it holds a sizable year-by-year archive of Shepherd’s shows on New York’s WOR. That planted an interest in my head that’s lain dormant until the past week or two, when I started checking some out.

(I think that’s the key: Dangle a huge cache of any sound in front of me — especially one labeled and separated by year and date — and eventually I’ll decide to explore it. It’s like collecting baseball cards, or Grateful Dead shows. I like episodes — small individual slices of something.)

I’ve been listening to shows from the first half of the Seventies. I’m led to believe that was past Shepherd’s prime. But the key ingredients that make him great all seem to be present:

-The dry, quick flashes of wordplay and creative description. (“You like bock beer? Dark beer? That’ll make your pelt glossy.”)

– The equally quick flashes of erudition. At any given time, usually unexpectedly, Shepherd might start talking about Triumph of the Will, or quoting T.S. Eliot, or offering trivia questions from World Series games 10 years before, or challenging his listeners to name the President known as “the Great Commoner.”

– The firsthand personal observation. One of my favorite shows thus far — a July 1972 musing on Minnesota — owes its excellence to the fact that Shepherd had recently visited Bemidji (I don’t think he ever got around to saying why) and had spent a fair amount of time bending elbows with the locals.

– The wisecracking during commercials, a skill at which Shepherd matched even masters like Dan Ingram.

– The curious ability to nail the endings of his shows without seeming to build to a formal climax. Sometimes he wrapped things up neatly, using a conventionally structured conclusion. Other times it sounded like he could have kept on going for another hour — like an April 1973 show about Opening Day, which ends with Shepherd’s memory of the very beginning of a long-ago game in Cincinnati. No matter how he ends, the shows keep resonating in my head well after they finish, like good books do.

The shows aren’t laugh-out-loud funny all that often (though they can be, such as when Shepherd gets his engineer to throw the echo switch and imitates a hopped-up crowd of Miami Dolphins fans: “CSONKA CSONKA CSONKA! GO GO GO!”)

And for that matter, not all of the universal truths Shepherd wrung out of his material ring all that true. But he has the born raconteur’s gift of walking on shaky ground with complete confidence, so even when you think, “Oh, really, Shep?,” you stay with him anyway.

Shepherd’s ability to leap from thought to thought, train to train, over the course of an hour is remarkable. If you demand or expect a straight line between points A and Z, he’ll frustrate you. But if you’re open to digression, you’ll love it.

And his ability to pick up something small, train a light on it, and thoroughly examine it earned the respect of none other than Jerry Seinfeld, who’s pretty good at that sort of thing too.

As I write this, for instance, Shep has moved from recounting his dad’s explosion at some long-ago White Sox trade to musing about what today’s — “today” being July 1973 — young Mets fans will talk about and remember 25 years later when they talk about their trips to the ballpark. Kids notice totally different things than adults do, Shepherd notes, and he wonders what will stick with them. He’s absolutely right.

I think I’m going to keep going with this jag and follow Shepherd back into the ’60s. I might even steer away from his explorations of broader social issues and check out some of the episodes about his family, which I’ve avoided so far, based on the same hazy mental block that’s kept me away from A Christmas Story.

I don’t have a great ending for this … so I’ll ride out on the sound of Shepherd’s familiar theme song, as performed — hey, whaddya know! — by the Boston Pops.

(I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the music. To me it connotes a certain slapstick quality that’s not always borne out by the content of the shows. Not up to me, anyway.)

It always worked when Shepherd just sorta talked his way into the record and then turned off the mic, so I suppose I’ll do the same.


I spent a long day feeding my head today, and you get to listen while I unpack it all before bed.

(Or not. I can’t make you, after all.)

Today was another of my weekend free rides, except I was in it for culture, not sports.

I learned this past week that the List Visual Arts Center at MIT was hosting an exhibit of work by the late Tony Conrad. Admission, as with all List Center exhibits, was free. So I resolved to head into Cambridge and check it out.

I knew Conrad had performed and recorded minimalist music in the early ’60s with two musicians who fascinate me, La Monte Young and John Cale. (Short version: The Dream Syndicate, including Young, Cale, Conrad and others, played drones until they couldn’t stand to do it any more, and then they kept doing it.)

I was more dimly aware that Conrad had also worked as a visual artist, and that sounded like something worth finding out more about.

An hour on the MBTA later — commuter rail to Back Bay, the Orange Line to Downtown Crossing, and the Red Line to Kendall/MIT — I was alone in the Conrad exhibit, riveted to a video in which Conrad demonstrated some of the unusual handmade stringed and percussion instruments that hung on the walls around me.


A homemade drone electric bass. No touching, alas.


Conrad, cheerily raking away at a violin with a bow. As in, the kind of bow you shoot arrows with.

Anyone who’s ever heard any of my Bandcamp stuff knows I’m not averse to a good blast of noise, so I enjoyed that part of the exhibit. Wished I had my diddley bow, even, so I could find some new ways to torture it.

The visual stuff was thought-provoking too. Among other things, Conrad went off on an early-’70s jag in which he pickled, roasted and deep-fried 16- and 35-mm film, then displayed it.

(In a long-ago performance called “Sukiyaki” — shown, alas, only in still photographs — Conrad stir-fried clips of film with beef strips, soy sauce, garlic, etc., and then “projected” it by flinging it against a screen.)

Avant as all hell, of course, but also enough to make one chew on questions like: What is a performance? What is a film? What, even, is art? All of which are good questions to chew on, every so often, because they make your brain feel a little bigger when you’re done.


Pickled film.

After that I walked across the Longfellow Bridge and through the rabbit-warren streets of Beacon Hill, which were cozy and brick-walled and thoroughly charming on the cold first day of December. (No, James Taylor, it did not snow, but it was dreamlike even without that frostin’.)



Then, still pondering the Definition of Art, I walked past the State House and through Boston Common (where people were ice-skating) and the Public Garden.

Skies were blue; spirits were high; vibrations were positive; however you want to express it, it felt good to be there.


An ice-skating jam named “Saturdays.”


Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose.

And then (I told you it was a long day, and we’re only up to about 2:30 at this point), I walked past the Boston Public Library and saw a sign for a book sale.

What? A book sale at the godlike Boston Public Library? With a buck apiece for paperbacks and a buck for CDs, just like your local library? Hells, yes.

For a lordly $4, I walked out with the first volume of A La Recherche de Temps Perdu (always wanted to read it, and now that I have it in the house, I no longer have an excuse not to) and three CDs.

Following the train ride home, I had a few late-afternoon hours to kill. I spent it listening to a couple of CDs I’d never listened to before:

– Michael Jackson, Off the Wall: not one of my BPL purchases, but rather part of my latest trip to the library. I’m not sure I need MJ at album length — the singles hold me fine — but this one’s quite good, as you probably don’t need me to tell you.

– Harpsichord selections composed by Johann Casper Ferdinand Fischer, played by Luc Beausejour. One of my BPL purchases. Fischer preceded Bach and is reputed to have been an influence on him, which is a pretty damn impressive thing to have on one’s resume. As for the music, I liked the jams and will be rockin’ them again.

I could have stayed in tonight and fed my mind some more new stuff. But hockey was calling, so I answered: I went on an evening adventure to see the Framingham State University Rams play a home game against the Salem State University Vikings.

In between the admission fee and the cup of puck-black coffee I bought at the concession stand, it was the most expensive part of my day.

And truth be told, it was probably the least memorable. Neither team lit up Loring Arena with their brilliance. Salem State seemed pretty solidly in control the whole time, and won 3-2.

I liked being there well enough, though — the few people who turn out for games like this tend to really want to be there — and since Massachusetts is a fine hockey state, it felt good to be in that bloodstream again.




And then I threw on some Tragically Hip and drove home through Sherborn and Medfield and Walpole, middle finger propped on the high-beam lever, imagining myself as Gord Downie in the “Bobcaygeon” video, impassively driving a big Crown Vic through the Ontario countryside, even though the constellations stubbornly refused to burst through the clouds and reveal themselves one star at a time for me like they did for Gord.

And now it’s 11:45 p.m. and I’m still feeling the puck-black coffee.

Maybe I’ll read some Proust.

Photographs & memories.

So the other morning I was hustling up the stairs, across the foyer, down the stairs again and out of Back Bay station, on my way to work.

There was a guy walking next to me … maybe thirtysomething, visibly a little younger than I am, doing the same commuter shuffle with a pair of headphones plugged in. (Ever since my iPods died, I no longer listen to music in public settings; I like to know what’s around me. Most other people are different.)

I happened to glance down at the guy’s hand and see the digital device he was plugged into — an iPhone, I assume.

A familiar face occupied the screen … mustachioed, ethnic, earnest, and quickly recognizable to those of us of a certain mental and cultural time and place:

Jim Croce.

Huh, I thought. People still listen to Jim Croce.

I have no idea why it should surprise me that somebody in his thirties would start his day with Jim Croce. But it did. And it still kinda does.

I guess I never pictured Croce as having much in the way of critical or cultural longevity. His is not a name I hear very often outside the Seventies on Seven — and while I generally take care not to assume my personal ignorance equals a larger cultural trend, I went ahead in this case.

(Croce did have one of the biggest posthumous career rushes of the rock era: At the start of February 1974, his albums stood at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 22 on the Billboard LP charts. Posthumous bursts don’t necessarily lead to lasting currency, though, absent some kind of charisma — and Croce’s down-to-earth persona, while charming, was not the sort of thing to have fans and critics obsessing 45 years later.)

Croce has a couple of the definitive ballads of the rock era to his name, I suppose, and maybe some pop-cultural appearance of “Time In A Bottle” or “I’ll Have To Say I Love You in a Song” led my fellow commuter to want to know more.

Or maybe his folks had the records, and he inherited his fondness for Jim Croce the way I inherited mine for Chicago or my brother got his for Paul Simon.

And maybe my fellow commuter has the right idea. Could be there are great songs on those Jim Croce records that no one else is hearing these days. (I never said it was wrong that this guy has Jim Croce on his iPhone, just that it seems uncommon.)

It made me wonder how many of the performers of the Sixties and Seventies — the ones with gold records, but south of megastar level — are being rediscovered by new generations, or ever will be.

Is there anyone between 15 and 35 taking a flyer on Ringo Starr’s Seventies albums? Stephen Stills’s? The Moody Blues’s? Bachman Turner Overdrive’s? Jethro Tull’s? Jefferson Starship’s? Traffic’s?

Or are these performers — chart-toppers all, and not that long ago, in the grand scheme of things — all on the way to becoming Guy Lombardo?

A few days ago, I spotted Steven Hyden’s Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock at my local library. Shoulda gotten it out; I sense it might have given me a bunch of fodder to ponder here. Maybe I’ll come back to it.

And tomorrow morning in the train station, I’ll see if I spot the cover graphics of Not Fragile or Seventh Sojourn on some stranger’s magical distraction machine. I’m not holding my breath … but I’ve been surprised before.