My main man Jim Bartlett recently heard the American Top 40 countdown from the week ending Sept. 22, 1973, and wasn’t too thrilled with it.
I remembered that I’d blogged this one song-by-song a couple of years ago at my old blog. And so — in a spirit not of correction or disagreement, but merely of impish counterpoint — I dug out that review, tightened it up a little and took out a couple four-letter words. Here goes:
Return with us, won’t you, to a distant, different, autumnal America, with Casey Kasem as your guide?
Here’s what was happening in the week ending Sept. 22, 1973:
* Time magazine features a burlesque cartoon hamburger on its cover, teasing a story about McDonald’s.
But the real meat of the week’s news is a story in which Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal threatens hikes in the price of oil as a consequence of America’s support of Israel.
Just a few weeks later, following the start of the Yom Kippur War, the threat would come true, triggering the energy crisis of 1973.
* Musicians Gram Parsons, Jim Croce and Hugo Winterhalter die — Parsons by drugs and alcohol, Croce in a plane crash and Winterhalter of cancer.
Croce’s death triggers new interest in his work. He will posthumously have a No. 1 hit single, and will hold the Nos. 1 and 2 positions on the album charts the following January.
Parsons does not attain the same mainstream interest, but remains a cult artist of great fascination for country-rock types.
Winterhalter remains best-known, then and now, for his 1956 easy-listening hit “Canadian Sunset.”
* Americans get to know the fall’s crop of new network television shows, including short-timers like “The New Adventures of Perry Mason,” “Calucci’s Department” and “The Girl with Something Extra.”
The season’s most memorable new shows, “Kojak” and “Happy Days,” will not debut until later on.
* Johnny Unitas makes his debut in the unfamiliar sky-blue-and-yellow garb of the San Diego Chargers after 16 years as a Baltimore Colt.
Unitas’s passing line is a meager 6-for-17 for 55 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions as the Washington Redskins stomp San Diego 38-0.
Unitas rallies to win the following week’s game against Buffalo, but it is his final win as an NFL starting quarterback.
* The Yankees have only three more games to play at historic old Yankee Stadium, which will close following the 1973 season for two years of extensive renovations.
But the biggest baseball story in New York — and everywhere else — is the Mets, who have climbed from fourth place to first over the past two weeks in the up-for-grabs National League East.
* Atlanta’s Henry Aaron is closing in on Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers, which he will reach the following April.
Aaron is not baseball’s home-run leader for the 1973 season, though. As of Sept. 22, that title belongs to his teammate Davey Johnson, who has a remarkable 43 dingers despite never hitting more than 18 in any previous season.
(There were no such things as steroid rumors in 1973; a home run was still a pure and wonderful thing.)
* Helen Dollaghan’s crab-zucchini casserole recipe runs in the Denver Post.
* Kate Jackson, Lloyd Bochner and Cheryl Ladd star in CBS’s made-for-TV movie of the week, “Satan’s School for Girls.”
* The Lewiston, Maine, Evening Journal advertises a “HEAVY! DYNAMITE! FAR OUT!” sale on LPs at local store Grants City.
The top-selling LPs at Grants are Jethro Tull’s “A Passion Play,” “Chicago VI” and Cat Stevens’ “Foreigner.”
LPs with a manufacturer’s list price of $5.98 are being sold at Grants for as little as $2.94.
* The Grateful Dead wrap up an eight-show East Coast run featuring guest horn players Martin Fierro and Joe Ellis.
The innovation is not welcomed by most Deadheads, and this is the only run of shows in the Dead’s long history to feature a regular horn section.
And now, the Top 40 with Casey, with favourites in bold as always:
No. 40: Jax 5ive, “Get It Together.”
No. 39: “In The Midnight Hour,” Cross Country. I think an acoustic guitar-driven cover of “Midnight Hour” could be magic in the hands of Van Morrison. These guys don’t quite make it sing.
No. 38: “To Know You Is To Love You,” BB King. I always enjoy seeing the King of the Blues score on the pop charts. C’mon — 300 gigs a year for 15 or 20 years oughta entitle him to that.
I don’t think the song is astonishingly incredible, though.
No. 37: “Angel,” Aretha Franklin. The one that starts with Aretha going over to visit her sister Carolyn.
Beautiful and soulful like everything Aretha.
No. 36: “Rocky Mountain Way,” Joe Walsh. One of two songs on this countdown I played in a band I was in, back around 2001. I kept coming in too early on the chord change during the talk-box solo.
No. 35: “Hey Girl (I Like Your Style),” The Temptations. Don’t have any notes on this so it must not have floored me.
No. 34: “Ecstasy,” Ohio Players.
Every AT40 countdown has a crave-song — a song I listen to obsessively for hours, if not days, afterward.
Previous countdowns’ crave-songs have ranged from “Hot Rod Lincoln” by Commander Cody to “Sweet Thing” by Chaka Khan and Rufus.
This is this week’s crave-song.
I love the churchy piano … and the five-bar structure, which makes things just a little different but not too off-kilter …
… and most of all, Junie Morrison’s fervid, feverish lead vocal, which I’m going to guess is at least 50 percent improvised.
(I have trouble imagining the words of this song written out on a page.)
Junie’s voice lives about halfway between Teddy Pendergrass and Marvin Gaye, which is a damned nice place to be.
Only about 40 seconds into the song, he sticks a falsetto note that makes every hair I have left stand straight up.
In other singers’ hands, that would be overkill; but in Morrison’s case, he’s just locked in.
No. 33: “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” Chicago.
Gotta love the four-on-the-floor section at the end — a rare example of Chicago (esp. Cetera-fronted Chicago) bursting with energy.
Among their best singles, I’d argue, though “Saturday In The Park” will always be Number One in my heart.
No. 32: “I’ve Got So Much To Give,” Barry White. OK, this bold is mostly out of respect for the big man … that double-time high-hat thing kinda doesn’t do it for me.
No. 31: “Why Me,” Kris Kristofferson. More singer-songwriter self-flagellation, with an extra helping of … Jesus!
Drinking game: Do a shot of whiskey every time Kris sings the word “Jesus.” You’ll be speaking Welsh in no time.
Elvis used to let his bass singer, J.D. Sumner, sing lead on this one onstage.
No. 30: “Stoned Out Of My Mind,” Chi-Lites, for the good burghers digging WVAM in Altoona, Pa.
Nice propulsive popping groove — time-and-a-half for that tambourine player! — matched to a lyric full of great old-school soul turns of phrase (“When you led me to the water, I drank it / I drank more than I could hold.”)
This could easily have been my crave-song if that meddling Junie Morrison hadn’t interfered.
From where I was, that opening chord sounded a lot like the opening chord of “Grease” … I started singing that descending horn line.
(You know the one.)
Casey doesn’t say the title before the record, but he does after the record.
No. 29: “Ghetto Child,” Spinners. I alternated between being charmed by this song (“I was just a boy punished for a crime that wasn’t mine”) and being put off by that weird phrasing on the chorus.
There’s, like, a bar with six-and-a-half beats in it.
Nice trading vox on this one. It’s a wonderful thang to have a group with multiple talented singers.
No. 28: “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” Conway Twitty. No. 1 country for the fourth straight week.
Not as teeth-gritting as it might have been.
Neil Diamond could probably rock this one nicely.
No. 27: “Get Down,” Gilbert O’Sullivan. “He’ll be visiting the U.S. next month,” Casey says, before and after the song.
What — is he kipping on your couch, Casey?
No. 26: “The Morning After,” Maureen McGovern. Businesslike Hollywood ballad with some pretty good harpsichord. 11 weeks on the chart; ex-Number One.
No. 25: “I Believe In You,” Johnnie Taylor. I continue to swear that this song is altogether too close, musically, to Van Morrison’s “Warm Love.”
Casey reminds us that he has another of those damn “Top 40 Artists of the Rock Era” specials coming up in a few weeks.
“Hope you’ll mark it down,” he says jauntily.
On what? My math folder?
No. 24: “Free Ride,” the Edgar Winter Group. Chunky, catchy, well-turned albeit eventually meaningless pop.
These guys were like a Grade B rock supergroup:
The “They Only Come Out At Night” album features cult guitar ace Ronnie Montrose (Sammy Hagar’s first employer); Dan Hartman of “I Can Dream About You” fame; Rick Derringer producing and guesting; and former Mitch Ryder drummer John “Johnny Bee” Badanjek.
No. 23: “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Gladys Knight and the Pips. I don’t have to speak on this, right?
You know this record is the bomb.
Up 10 notches in its second week.
No. 22, debut: Stones, “Angie.”
I still say “Moonlight Mile” is the best ballad these guys ever turned out; but I will, when pressed, admit a mild fondness for this.
Even though I know Mick Jagger is a poseur, I enjoy his vocal on this one.
No. 21: Doobies, “China Grove.” Can’t tell whether Casey calls this a “cookin’ town” or a “cookin’ sound.” Either works, I guess.
Some nifty touches for an ex-biker band, like the way they shift into half-time for the line “You can even hear the music at night.”
No. 20: “Yes We Can Can,” Pointer Sisters, rockin’ the ears glued to WBSR in Pensacola, Florida.
Stripped-down, uplifting, positive funk, like that formerly produced by …
No. 19: … “If You Want Me To Stay,” Sly and the Family.
10th week on the charts.
I could just listen to the bass line on this — it’s shifty, and funky, and sounds like it was played during a really great jam.
(Even though I know it might have been overdubbed by Sly in between overdubbing the drums and overdubbing the keyboards.)
No. 18: “Theme from Cleopatra Jones,” Joe Simon and the Main Streeters.
This is really two-bit Curtis Mayfield; and Simon’s voice is not up to some of the bellows he demands from it.
I’m just bolding it because ” ‘Theme from Cleopatra Jones’ by Joe Simon and the Main Streeters” absolutely screams early-’70s, more so than any other title and performer credit on any other single.
It’s like the perfect combination.
No. 17: “Live and Let Die,” Wings.
The theme song was the best part of the movie … uh, unless you found Baron Samedi frightening.
I think this is about the best anyone could do if challenged to write a song called “Live and Let Die.”
This is as good as that title gets.
No. 16: “Here I Am (Come And Take Me),” Al Green. Ex-Top Ten record, and absolutely exquisite.
No. 15: Allman Brothers Band, “Ramblin’ Man.”
Any time a band not known for singles produces a three-and-a-half-minute song that fulfills the basic requirements of a single, without compromising the band’s essential spirit, that’s cause for celebration.
And when the band pulls it off in the face of personal tragedy, that’s even bigger.
Dickey Betts’ flat, nasal delivery and his tendency to repeat every guitar lick at least six times are mere quibbles in the face of the Allmans’ triumph.
From the Number One LP in the nation, “Brothers and Sisters.”
No. 14: Eddie Kendricks, “Keep On Truckin’.” The breakdown goes on too long, and what the hell’s up with the gong crash?
Up 16 spots.
No. 13: War, “Gypsy Man.” Ex-Top Ten. They’ve been better and funkier, really.
No. 12: Elton John, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”
I think I bolded this out of a sense of noblesse oblige; I don’t really buy the notion of Reg and his mates going out on Saturday night for some aggro.
No. 11: “My Maria,” B.W. Stevenson. OK song. Seemed to me like a predecessor of the crisp acoustic-rooted pop we hear today … like, I dunno, Jason Mraz or Sister Hazel or something.
No. 10: “That Lady,” Isley Brothers. Casey tells the story of how the Isleys were discovered on a Greyhound bus.
What’s cooler than having multiple strong vocalists in your band?
No. 9: “Touch Me In The Morning,” Diana Ross. Is she contractually required to have a spoken-word voiceover on every single?
No. 8: “Higher Ground,” Stevie Wonder. Up five notches for Stevie’s 15th Top Ten record.
He’s like Aretha — I need only say “Stevie” and the bold is obligatory.
No. 7: “Half-Breed,” Cher. I liked this OK, better than most Cher songs. I found it believable as a slice of life. God knows why, since I didn’t really buy the slice-of-life depicted in …
No. 6: … “Brother Louie,” Stories. The music sets an effective mood, but the story of the “whiter-than-white” guy who “tastes brown sugar” just doesn’t do anything for me.
Maybe ’cause it doesn’t resolve:
Louie falls in love with a black girl; takes her home to his parents; has a ferocious fight; and … what?
Does he throw something off a bridge, or disappear into his girlfriend’s radio, or take out a classified ad looking for a girl who likes pina coladas?
This is the Seventies — the golden age of story-songs — and we, the audience, demand a grabbier ending than that.
No. 5: “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?,” Dawn. Hope the people listening to WGRQ in Buffalo dug this, ’cause I sure as shit didn’t.
No. 4: “Loves Me Like A Rock,” Paul Simon and the Dixie Hummingbirds. The ‘Birds didn’t get credit on the single, I don’t think, but they get credit in this house.
I read a book about them not long ago, and this song helped them get better gigs, nicer clothes and a new van; so it’s all right with me even if I can’t buy the notion of Paul Simon fronting a gospel group.
No. 3: “Delta Dawn,” Helen Reddy. She set a record the previous week, Casey says, by becoming the sixth solo female artist to hit Number One in a calendar year.
This is my favorite Helen Reddy song, which of course ain’t saying much.
But I heard that a cappella choral intro in my head for several hours a couple of days ago — before that Junie Morrison dude chased it out.
According to Wiki, Bette Midler cut this as a single as well, but when Reddy beat her to release, Midler was forced to put out “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” as her A-side.
Reddy for the win!
Is the downtrodden, scorned, deluded Delta Dawn a metaphor for 1973 America?
No. 2: “We’re An American Band,” Grand Funk Railroad. The other one of the songs I used to play in that band.
I can still see Don Brewer, massive Afro rampant, barking this into a microphone while playing with overdone gestures.
And so can you!
This song would hit Number One the following week, on Mark Farner’s 25th birthday, which probably would have meant more to Mark had he written or sung the song.
And this week’s No. 1:
“Let’s Get It On,” Marvin Gaye. Usually I think this one is overdone, overplayed and overused … but y’know, I was in the mood when I heard it this time.
(In the mood for the song. Pervert.)
Hope this post was worth 90 minutes of your time.