My man Jim Bartlett recently found a treasure trove that could keep your average music blogger in business for roughly 12,000 years: The American Radio History website has posted an archive of Billboard magazines going back to the 1940s.
I wouldn’t want to fish too long off another man’s pier, so I won’t dig too much for blog topics there.
But I don’t think Jim would mind if I picked just one issue to write about — the one from the week I was born, which is of perpetual interest to me as a self-centered amateur history buff.
There’s a whole lot of delicious ’70s juice in there. In fact, I might have to write more than one post to get to it all.
But we’ll start here and now, with the Billboard issue for the week ending July 7, 1973:
– The Page One lead story, under the hed “Senators Push Sweeping Probes,” details ongoing investigations into claims of payola and “drugola” in the music industry. (I have never, to my recollection, heard the term “drugola” before. Wonder how many ounces it took to buy off a DJ in L.A., as opposed to, say, Fort Lauderdale?)
– Also on Page One: The Robert Stigwood Organization is reportedly producing a new theatrical package based on the Beatles albums Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road.
This sent a frisson of joy up my spine, as this touring theater show was almost certainly the genesis of the Sgt. Pepper’s movie — one of my favorite pieces of Seventies trash-culture — released five years later with the financial backing of the Robert Stigwood Organization.
(Listed as helping out with the 1973 touring theater show were Steven Leber and David Krebs, who later became sorta-famous as co-managers of Aerosmith, who in turn became wicked famous from their performance as the Future Villain Band in the Sgt. Pepper’s movie. I love when diverse threads come together.)
– A Columbia Records ad at the bottom of Page One features three albums I own; a fourth album I heard often as a kid and probably should own; and one I never got around to. I’ll let you guess which is which.
– A full-page ad on Page 2 touts 10cc’s “perfect summer single” “Rubber Bullets,” which “conquered the U.K.” and is “now on to the U.S.” The ARSA database tells us “Rubber Bullets” was a Top Ten hit in Salt Lake City, but it didn’t trouble the Top 40 charts.
– Another sign of the times on Page 3: A&M Records becomes the first label to issue quadraphonic records using both the SQ 4-channel method and Sansui’s SQ method. I haven’t the vaguest idea what set them apart, but yay, quadraphonic sound!
(The first A&M album released using the SQ 4-channel method: Rick Wakeman’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII. I told you this issue was full of Seventies mojo.)
– Helen Reddy (we’re still on Page 3) gets props for hiring contemporary, less familiar performers for her eight-week summer replacement show. Examples include Cheech and Chong, the Pointer Sisters (whose debut album had been out for only about a month), and B.B. King. The show’s producer notes that the network, at first glance, asked who most of the performers were and suggested Jim Nabors and Tim Conway instead.
– Page 4: Steely Dan is awarded a gold record for Can’t Buy a Thrill, while jazz impresario George Wein’s Newport West jazz festival is an artistic success, but a commercial failure.
– Pages 8 and 9: An absolutely exquisite two-page ad for Chicago VI, featuring the album’s gatefold shot of the band in the mountains of Colorado, with the caption “America’s Premier Rock n’ Roll Band.”
– Pages 11 and 12: Not to be outdone, Elton John gets two pages to announce the formation of his own record company, Rocket Records (whose logo, perversely, is a winking train). Its first batch of releases include LPs by Longdancer, Mike Silver, and Elton sideman Davey Johnstone.
– Page 16: Ben Vereen signs to Columbia Records; former Herbie Hancock sideman Eddie Henderson signs to Capricorn; fusion guitarist Larry Coryell to Vanguard; and duo Sharon Ridley and Van McCoy to Silver Blue Records.
Meanwhile, the gig listings chronicle upcoming performances by everyone from Chuck Mangione (Village Vanguard, New York, July 17-22) to T-Bone Walker (El Macombo, Toronto, July 17-21) to Proctor and Bergman (Toronto, July 20-21) to Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys (a variety of Southern stops, including the Alabama State Fair and the Grand Old Opry).
– Page 18: The Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More” sits atop the week’s Easy Listening chart, followed by Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome.”
I tend to think of “easy listening” as “toothless,” but a few records further down on the chart — “Soul Makossa,” “I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby,” Looking Glass’ sublime “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne,” and “Live and Let Die” — remind me that the easy listening chart wasn’t just for big marshmallowy records that handled like Cadillacs.
– Page 19 sports a huge ad for the Capital Centre, the not-quite-finished new arena in the Washington, D.C., area.
The building’s gone already; I was never there myself. But my wife, in her high school years, saw INXS, Aerosmith and Larry Bird play there.
– Page 23: The top three songs on the Soul chart are “Doin’ It To Death,” “Time to Get Down” by the O’Jays, and “One of A Kind Love Affair” by the Spinners. Barry White, Isaac Hayes and Donald Byrd top the Soul LP chart. Awesomeness pretty much radiates right off the entire page.
– Page 28 features a picture of a young British-born chanteuse making the rounds of U.S. stations to talk up her cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” She’d be in the U.S. Top Ten by year’s end — but not with the John Denver tune.
– Also on Page 28, an outfit calling itself Hype, Ink., offers copies of a book of “original radio comedy material” designed to pep up DJ patter. I’d never thought of that as a business opportunity. Wonder if it’s common for DJs or aspiring DJs to get their material from somewhere?
– Page 29 finds jukebox programmers across the country wrestling with the question of whether to get on board with “Should I Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Old Oak Tree?,” Connie Francis’s answer record to you-know-what. Some buyers were hesitating because the artist “is not considered a top seller at the present time.”
– Page 32, charmingly, packages the top-selling Classical chart next to the Campus News college-radio breakdown. July 1973 was clearly a few months after “The Sting” came out, as the top three classical albums were all collections of Scott Joplin material (followed at Number Four by Switched-On Bach).
The Campus News column compiles a list of popular records on college stations around the country, and it’s a wonderful mix of the obscure (the aforementioned Blue Mink at Memphis State University; Speedy Keen at the University of Connecticut; the Sutherland Brothers & Quiver at Adelphi University) and the better-known (Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun at Northeastern University; The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get at Vanderbilt University; There Goes Rhymin’ Simon at SUNY-Geneseo.)
That brings me roughly halfway into the 68-page issue and I’m already at 1,200 words, so we’ll rejoin the dance another night. Thanks again, Jim.