This is, you’ll be thrilled to know, Post No. 500 in the history of Neck Pickup. To celebrate, I’m both going to give the Five Readers what they want, and go a little out of my comfort zone.
The readership stats and the comments tell me people like it when I write about old radio countdowns — either Casey Kasem American Top 40 jawns, or local radio-station play charts. So I’ll do a little more of that.
But, just for fun, I’m gonna leave my Seventies comfort zone and go all the way back to Beatlemania.
I grew up hearing plenty of Sixties tunes on Saturday-night all-request oldies hours, and some of them still rattle around my transom from time to time. (“Don’t ya know that she’s juuuuuust myyyyy style / Ev’rything about her driiiiiives meeeeeee wild.”)
Left to my own devices, though, I will write about a 15-year period roughly bounded by Sgt. Pepper’s and Business As Usual. Just seems to be where I’m most at home, I guess.
We’re headed somewhere different thanks to Allentown’s old WHOL-AM 1600 (“Top Of The Dial – The Top Popper Sounds!”), and its local airplay report for the week ending Aug. 14, 1964.
Will there be Beatles? Of course. But what else will there be?
Let’s find out:
-Pretty nice mix of stuff in the Top 10.
I often tend to reduce ’64, in my mental periscope, to near-toxic doses of Beatles; a bunch of other Limeys with guitars serving as supporting cast; and the occasional shot of Motown. But WHOL’s biggest hits are a little more well-rounded than that.
We’ve got two Motown and soul classics (“Where Did Our Love Go” and “Under the Boardwalk”) … some smooveness from Dean Martin … Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons doing the Jersey falsetto thang about as well as they ever did it … some handclapping garage rock from the Premiers (hilariously covered, years later, by Neil Young and Crazy Horse) … some acceptably humorous pop-country from Roger Miller … some one-hit-wonder soul from Patty and the Emblems (not the “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl” later performed by Mink DeVille and Boz Scaggs, but a pretty good tune nonetheless) … and, oh yeah, those guys from Liverpool at No. 3 with a song that still owns any room it plays in.
I don’t love all these songs, necessarily, but somebody listening to the radio in Bethlehem or Kutztown would have heard a pretty good range of stuff.
-Just to get the Fab Four mentions out of the way, they notch four songs on WHOL’s 50-song countdown.
I’m counting “And I Love Her/If I Fell” as one song, as listed at No. 12, even though it’s two — and both are gorgeous. I suppose I should count George Martin’s “Ringo’s Theme,” at No. 27, as a Beatles song as well, since the Fifth Beatle wouldn’t have been getting U.S. airplay if not for the Other Four.
At 36, meanwhile, is “Ain’t She Sweet,” a tune recorded by the Beatles in 1961 Hamburg during a session backing Tony Sheridan, and rushed out to make some money off Beatlemania. Could the teens of ’64 tell the difference between the “real” Beatles and the cash-in Beatles, or did they just slurp it all up indiscriminately?
(I would be hard put to point any generational fingers: It was people my age who sent the clearly cobbled-together G’n’R Lies, one full side of which was studio recordings posing as live, to the U.S. Top Five.)
-The Rolling Stones appear to be just surfacing on the Lehigh Valley’s radar screen, with “Tell Me” (No. 38, up two notches) and “It’s All Over Now” (No. 49, first week) apparently both on their ways up.
On a chart littered with British acts, I wonder how many listeners spotted the Stones as up-and-comers with potential, and how many figured they were just another bunch of here-and-gone long-hairs.
(I have always found “Tell Me” to be, as the British say, wet; but the germ of the Stones’ swaggering genius is present in “It’s All Over Now.”)
-A couple of future American Pop Geniuses were having mediocre weeks in August of ’64.
The once-popular American surfing sound was reduced to a two-song beachhead at Nos. 14 and 15. One song was classic, and one gimmicky. You don’t need me to tell you which was which, right?
(Whoops: Just noticed the Rip-Chords’ “Wah-Wahini” at No. 50. I guess that counts as a third surf song. I don’t think it troubled listeners all that much, though.)
The Beach Boys would be back about two weeks after this countdown with a new single, “When I Grow Up To Be A Man,” a departure from the cocksure teenage strut of “I Get Around.” It resonated well enough with the kids, hitting the Top 10, but intimated that things other than sea and surf were now occupying Brian Wilson’s head.
And, at No. 42 and heading south, you’ll see boy genius Stevie Wonder with “Hey Harmonica Man,” one of a string of commercially and artistically underwhelming singles released after the success of “Fingertips.”
Not until November 1965 would Stevie break out of his teenage rut with another solid hit, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” — never a favorite of mine, but lots of other people dug it.
-Another American genius putting in his time shows up at No. 47.
As a mid-Nineties college graduate, I find that Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” has a permanent stink of 1994 about it, just as strongly as any college-radio hit of that year — thanks to its placement in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, a movie you pretty much were required to see if you were in college when it came out.
(Indeed, I am not sure if the aroma that bothers me comes from 1994 or from Quentin Tarantino, who always seemed just a little too eager to tell anyone who would listen about how wide-ranging his record collection was and how much fun it was to match just the right obscure pop song to a scene in which someone gets decapitated by a broadsword.)
I can live without the director, I can live without the movie, and I can live without the song.
Made sense at the time, I guess.
(As a further insult to Chuck, the Dion cover of “Johnny B. Goode” listed as hitbound at the bottom of the WHOL chart topped out nationally at only No. 71.)
-There’s a weird burst of Jamaica down in the 30s and 40s, with the Ska Kings’ “Jamaica Ska,” Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop” and Tracey Dey’s “Ska-Doo-De-Yah.” (The latter record, YouTube tells me, was a production and co-write by Bob Crewe of Four Seasons fame. Not exactly straight outta Trench Town, that one.)
I get the sense that the record industry, or some portion of it, had decided that Jamaican ska was the Next Big Thing and was putting some promotion behind it.
(Remember how the “Bosstown Sound” of 1968 tried to ride the wave of the organic San Francisco Sound of ’67? I wonder if the record companies counterprogrammed ska as an attempt to identify the next Beatle-ish trend. It didn’t take.)
-The listing for the “WHOL Pic LP” is American Tour by the Dave Clark Five.
That might sound like a live elpee of the band onstage in Worcester or San Bernardino or someplace, but it ain’t. According to Wiki, American Tour is a studio album. In Canada, where truth in advertising laws were apparently no more stringent, it was released as On Stage With the Dave Clark Five.
A year later, when radio newsman Ed Rudy released an LP of Dave Clark Five interviews, he titled it The New U.S. Tour with Ed Rudy. Wonder if any inattentive kids bought that one, thinking it was the live album they’d hoped to hear with American Tour but hadn’t gotten? (My man Jim Bartlett tells more of the Ed Rudy story here.)
-Finally, I note the tease at the bottom to see all your favorite WHOL personalities at the Great Allentown Fair. That’s an annual end-of-summer tradition with carnival rides, farm animals and such, and indeed this year’s fair will be along in just a few weeks.
According to multiple sources, Andy Williams performed at the Great Allentown Fair in 1964, and brought with him a clean-cut group from his TV show that would, a few unpredictable years down the road, trigger a smaller version of Beatlemania.
At the time, they were called the Osmond Brothers.