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A purely mathematical exercise.

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Rather than crack wise about old records, I’m going to try a different approach.

The ARSA database of local radio airplay charts has a couple of surveys from eastern Pennsylvania radio stations representing this week — one ending March 7, 1971; one ending March 11, 1974; one ending March 11, 1975; and one ending March 5, 1979.

To each song on the Top Ten, I’ll assign a numerical grade, ranging from 0 (never wanna hear it again) to 5 (one or two spins a week would be fine, thanks) to 10 (play it all night long).

Then I’ll add ’em all together, and the year with the highest score wins.

(And yeah, I’ll probably toss out a couple irresponsibly dismissive value judgments while I’m going about it.)

Here goes, then. All song titles are reproduced as they appear on the surveys, for what that’s worth.

1971 (WRAW-AM, Reading):
1. Janis Joplin – Me And Bobby McGee – 8 (I’m kinda tired of this, but I can’t deny it’s a magnificent record, especially the joyous jam at the end)
2. The Carpenters – For All We Know – 2
3. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Have You Seen The Rain – 6 (can’t give CCR too low a score, but I like it better when they put the pedal down a little bit more)
4. Jackson Five – Mama’s Pearl – 8 (this is glorious, at least until it gets too far away from the chorus and kinda loses its way)
5. Tom Jones – She’s A Lady – 7 (a different sort of glorious. Gloriously hammy.)
6. The Temptations – Just My Imagination – 6 (oh, yeah, that Stones tune)
7. Osmonds – One Bad Apple – 7 (and I could have given it a point or two more. Osmonds/Jax 5 back-to-back on the radio would have been as much fun, in its own way, as Beatles/Stones or Beatles/Beach Boys)
8. Partridge Family – Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted – 2
9. Sammi Smith – Help Me Make It Through The Night – 3
10. Wadsworth Mansion – Sweet Mary – 5 (for pop records about chicks, I’ll still take “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” but this one’s OK anyway)

1971’s total: 54
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all the songs?: Hard to say. The rest of the countdown is evenly split between killers – “I Hear You Knocking,” “Proud Mary,” “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” – and crap – “Cried Like A Baby,” “Amos Moses,” and “D.O.A.,” which would get a negative score if such a thing were possible.)

1974 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1. Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun – 0 (This one was in the midst of a three-week run at Number One nationally. The purest distillation of the tacky/mawkish side of the Seventies.)
2. Cher – Dark Lady – 1
3. John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulder – 2
4. Carly Simon & James Taylor – Mockingbird – 3 (that’s being kind, probably, but it’s uncouth to speak ill of pregnant ladies)
5. Jim Stafford – Spiders & Snakes – 2
6. Redbone – Come Get Your Love – 5 (there is room in the universe for “it’s stupid but it grooves”)
7. David Essex – Rock On – 4
8. Sister Janet Meade – Lord’s Prayer – 1 (it’s probably uncouth to speak ill of nuns, also — they work hard for the money — so SJM gets a solitary point. If you look at the survey, WKAP was running a promotion for a private showing of “The Exorcist” at the same time it was spinning Sister Janet in heavy rotation.)
9. Paul McCartney – Jet – 9 (not Macca’s best lyric but a fabulous soaring piece of rock n’ roll, and one of my five favorite McCartney solo tunes, were I to list them)
10. Barbra Streisand – The Way We Were – 3

1974’s total: 30
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Yes, probably.)

1975 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1 Frankie Valli – My Eyes Adored You – 2
2 Minnie Riperton – Lovin’ You – 5
3 LaBelle – Lady Marmalade – 10 (not a typo, nor a mistake. Outrageous sassy New Orleans funk. The radio needed more of this. It still does.)
4 Doobie Brothers – Black Water – 7 (their finest moment? yeah, most likely.)
5 Sugarloaf – Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You – 7 (underrated wiseassery)
6 Ringo Starr – No No Song/Snookeroo – 3
7 Styx – Lady – 2
8 Olivia Newton John – Have You Never Been Mellow – 2
9 Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces – 8 (I taped this off the radio when I was maybe 13 and just learning about a whole class of Seventies tunes that were bad and funky and colorful and totally un-Eighties. Like “Lady Marmalade.”)
10 Joe Cocker – You Are So Beautiful – 4 (as professional hit-making songwriters, did Dennis Wilson, Bruce Johnston and Mike Love all fare better in the Seventies than Brian Wilson?)

1975’s total: 50
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Probably not, although “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Harry Truman” and “Shaving Cream” would all have scored strongly.)

1979 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1. Neil Diamond – Forever In Blue Jeans – 3 (there’s more to this song than the chorus but damned if I remember it)
2. Little River Band – Lady – 2 (classy and professional and ultimately rather boring)
3. Rod Stewart – Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? – 4 (Jorge Ben’s “Taj Mahal” smokes this)
4. Dire Straits – Sultans Of Swing – 4 (should get more but I’m plenty sick of hearing it)
5. Melissa Manchester – Don’t Cry Out Loud – 2 (classy and professional and ultimately rather boring)
6. The Bee Gees – Tragedy – 4
7. The Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes – 4
8. Nigel Olsson – Dancin’ Shoes – 4 (never heard it enough for it to wear out its welcome)
9. The Babys – Every Time I Think Of You – 3
10. Donna Summer – Heaven Knows – 4

1979’s total: 34
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Possibly, though even in its full incarnation, the chart is lacking in 9 or 10-scores.)

The winner: For all the time I’ve spent deriding 1971 countdowns — it is, pound for pound, not my favorite year — that was a pretty good March to have the radio on. At least around here.

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5 responses »

  1. What a fool…, wasn’t that Michael McDonald solo? A solo CD exists with that track and you might get it for Xmas if I can find it in storage. I’m sure you’ll find that repeated relistenings will bring it up to a 6 or 7.

    Sultans…, played a lot? Yes. Overplayed? No. That guitar though. Again in the 6/7 range especially when comparing its musicality compared with the crap around it that year.

    Reply
    • It could just as well have been Michael McDonald solo, as he dominated the proceedings, but the hit version was a Doobie Brothers record in name.

      Given that I have just discovered Jandek, the chances of a Michael McDonald CD getting play at my house are probably slim to none.

      Reply
  2. This is a great idea and I wish I had thought of it.

    Weird thing about “Seasons in the Sun”–while it’s justifiably reviled by most right-thinking people, it’s also impossible to fully tell the story of 70s radio music without it. Kind of like a .197 hitter making the Hall of Fame, I guess.

    Reply
  3. On unrelated matters but relevant to other things, have you seen the Bing Crosby blackface number from “Holiday Inn” – http://www.criticalcommons.org/Members/sammondn/clips/holiday-inn-abraham-scene. Man.

    Reply
  4. “8. Partridge Family – Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted – 2”

    No, you are incorrect. 🙂
    Great pop chorus – begs for a Matthew Sweet cover.

    Reply

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