Not our usual From the Valley content. But, it’s local and it’s about music, so I’m calling it what I want. The local music reviews will be back soon enough.
The Lehigh Valley is heavily influenced by larger, more culturally active cities nearby. The people who live here watch the network TV stations from Philadelphia, and go to New York City for museums, art and other High Culture.
By and large, we listen to radio stations from around here — though, in an age of corporate ownership, that doesn’t mean as much as it used to. For instance, WAEB-FM, the Valley’s Top 40 station, and WAEB-AM, a mostly conservative talk-radio station, are both Clear Channel stations now.
Back in the day, WAEB-AM was the Valley’s hit-radio station, one of a small chain of stations owned by Lehigh University graduate Bill Rust.
Like similar stations in countless other cities, its playlists would have reflected listener preferences and decisions made locally or, at very least, regionally. What was being played in Hartford or Denver or Tallahassee wouldn’t have figured into the mix.
The invaluable ARSA database preserves a number of WAEB’s weekly most-played music lists — including two from this very week, one in 1968 and the other in 1970.
We’ll take 1968 first, and get back to 1970 soon.
What, then, was the Lehigh Valley listening to 45 years ago this week? If you’d gone into the halls of Dieruff or Becahi or Nazareth Area High School, what would the kids have been buzzing about?
Here’s the full survey; I’ll pick out some of the highlights:
– Apple Records — at that moment, the most buzzed-about new label in the business — holds the 1 and 2 spots with its first two single releases, Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were The Days” and the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.”
– There’s a lot of fairly lightweight pop on the countdown, whether it be straight-up teenybopper bubblegum (note “Bang-Shang-a-Lang” and “Chewy, Chewy” back-to-back, as well as the Cowsills coming up as the next Sure Shot) or marginally more grown-up productions (Johnny Nash, the Turtles, the Union Gap).
– Cream’s “White Room” at No. 20 is kinda funny. Because of the band’s reputation as Heavy Musicians, and because the song was a classic-rock radio staple when I was a kid, I never thought of it as a pop song.
But, seen through the lens of this countdown, I could imagine “White Room” appealing to the same kids who bought, say, “Green Tambourine” or “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” It’s oblique, it’s psychedelic, it’s catchy … sure, why not?
(It is harder-edged than most of the songs I just mentioned. Especially at the end, after they play the bolero rhythm for the last time, and hold that one chord a little longer than usual, and Eric Clapton lets just a touch of feedback creep through. Feedback is electronic devilsong. It works well here.)
– Big Brother’s “Piece of My Heart” and Sinatra’s “Cycles” at Nos. 28 and 29 is priceless. Talk about two diametrically opposed but beloved American voices. Wonder if WAEB ever actually played them back to back?
– Bobby Womack cut “Fly Me To The Moon”? I didn’t know that. Hey, it works OK.
– Another tune I was unfamiliar with and had to look up: Petula Clark’s “American Boys,” at No. 33.
Even after groups like the Supremes had embraced topicality (viz. “Love Child,” No. 6 on the WAEB Fabulous Forty), Ms. Clark was still cutting bouncy advice-to-the-single-girl records like it was 1964 all over again.
It is either charming or sort of sad to think that — in a world where the White Album and Beggars Banquet and Music from Big Pink and God knows what else existed — somebody was still dishing out this kind of froth.
– A nice cold shot of soul at Nos. 36-38 with Eddie Floyd’s “Bring It On Home,” Johnnie Taylor’s decidedly adult “Who’s Making Love” (bet that sounded good next to “Chewy, Chewy”) and Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life.”
Of course, it was followed by the Chipmunks and Engelbert Humperdinck … so it’s safe to say that WAEB was not the standard-bearer of soul in the Lehigh Valley. (Or, perhaps, that the Lehigh Valley was not the standard-bearer of soul in the U.S. Maybe that was something else you looked to Philly or New York for.)
– The New Music Power Sounds list, again, is mostly forgettable pop (Nancy Sinatra? The Osmond Brothers? The Pop Corn Generation, whatever that was?) with a weird interloper in the form of Jefferson Airplane’s “Lather,” the bitter-edged, willfully bizarre story of a man-child who refuses to grow up.
So there you have it. It’s not my favorite 50 or so songs. But it was the Lehigh Valley’s favorite 50 or so songs — not Hartford’s or Denver’s or Tallahassee’s. And in that, it is noteworthy.