One of the drollest things you can read on Wikipedia is Frank Zappa’s singles discography.
See, discography entries on Wikipedia follow a particular format. They show how each single or LP ranked on the pop charts of various nations.
If the song or album missed the charts altogether, a horizontal line appears — shorthand for a stiff, if you will.
So, Frank Zappa’s singles discography on Wikipedia consists of a long, barely broken series of horizontal stiff-lines spanning 25 years and six nations.
It’s a nice, understated representation of a lifetime of mutual hostility between Zappa and the average record-buyer.
One of the few actual numbers to be seen on the full chart came from a fluke step into the mainstream 35 years ago around this time of year. And, whaddya know, there’s a minor Lehigh Valley angle to our story.
Zappa, ever alert to cultural fatuousness, parodied disco music as early as 1976 with the single “Disco Boy.” That one didn’t trouble Casey Kasem, peaking at No. 105 in the U.S.
Three years later, Americans were just starting to tire of the disco trend, and Zappa’s similarly themed (but catchier) “Dancin’ Fool” single began catching some unprecedented airplay.
The song’s chart placement might have been boosted by its performance on “Saturday Night Live” in October 1978, and by its inclusion the following year on Sheik Yerbouti, one of Zappa’s most popular LPs. Yerbouti reached No. 21 on the U.S. album charts, Zappa’s best placement on that chart since 1974 and a peak he would not reach again.
According to the Wiki chart, “Dancin’ Fool” topped out just short of the U.S. Top 40, peaking at No. 45.
It’s sort of an open secret that Billboard magazine cooked some of its singles charts in the Seventies.
I wonder if Zappa’s near-miss was legitimate, or whether somebody decided that the music industry’s most notorious iconoclast didn’t deserve to be on the Forty — especially while he was mocking the music industry’s hottest meal ticket.
(Either seems believable to me. Certainly, Zappa was never known for attracting mainstream radio play, so maybe he did fall just short. He eventually made the Forty for the first and only time with 1982’s “Valley Girl.”)
The invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts shows “Dancin’ Fool” getting spins in a handful of major markets, including San Francisco, New York and Minneapolis.
Oh … and Easton, Pennsylvania, the easternmost outpost of the Lehigh Valley.
For the week ending June 11, 1979, Easton’s WEEX-AM ranked “Dancin’ Fool” No. 23 in its local airplay ratings — riding alongside such uncut slices of disco as “Hot Stuff,” “Boogie Wonderland,” “Ring My Bell” and “Love You Inside Out.”
It heartens me to know that a local station that was probably living off disco in 1979 could also find some airtime to take the piss out of it.
WEEX is now one of two local stations simulcasting ESPN radio programming. Wonder if they’d give regular play today to something that openly mocked America’s sports-industrial complex and the people who worship it?
(Shame Zappa’s not around to take a whack at that.)