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The best-laid plans.

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The last time I wrote about an old local radio airplay chart, I found the story of a band that was huge on most continents but small potatoes in the U.S. … except for a couple of weeks in the Lehigh Valley, when they got Top Five airplay.

I’m looking at another of these old radio charts. And this time, the story is an album — one of those earnest high-concept Seventies jobbies — that stiffed in most other parts of the U.S., but was unaccountably popular here in the Valley.

Set the controls for the week ending Aug. 26, 1973, and the radio for Allentown’s old Top Forty station WAEB 790 AM.

Summer’s nearly over. What are the kids reporting for fall sports practice at Northampton and Nazareth and Becahi buzzing over?

Well, the list of top singles is a typical ’73 mix of the sublime (“Here I Am (Come And Take Me),” “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne,” “Live and Let Die”) and the ridiculous (“The Morning After,” “Uneasy Rider,” “Gypsy Rose”).

But what interests us is the LP chart. That’s an uneven mix too — you’ll see the kids in the Lehigh Valley getting off on Leon Live and Sing It Again, Rod alongside the more lasting likes of 1967-1970 and Countdown to Ecstasy.

And then, near the bottom, you’ll see the Osmonds’ The Plan.

The Plan, released in June of that year, is an openly religious album — an attempt by the group to express aspects of its Mormon faith in a pop setting.

If you skip to about 1:30 into this promotional video, you’ll see one of the guitar-toting Osmond bros explain it in a po-faced voice-over: “Recently, we released a new album … a concept album … based on our philosophies about life. Where did I come from? Why am I here? And where am I going? In other words — the plan.”

Anybody who knows their Seventies pop culture knows where the Osmond family of Ogden, Utah, formed its “philosophies about life” — philosophies that guided the group members’ offstage lives and, on this album, spilled over into their music.

Like other musicians of faith — including fellow ’73 hitmakers George Harrison and Al Green — the Osmonds found ways to package their spiritual concerns in ways that would be palatable to a mass audience.

Two of the album’s songs cracked the lower reaches of the U.S. Top Forty and one hit No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart, testament to the professional talent of family songwriters Merrill and Wayne Osmond.

That said, online reviews of the album suggest that most listeners found The Plan too openly religious to embrace. (Some reviewers also criticize the album for skipping too wildly between musical genres.)

If you watch the promotional video above, skip to about 4:05 in, and you’ll see the brothers tackle a foreboding, heavy tune called “The Last Days,” which segues abruptly into a bouncy, encouraging tune called “One Way Ticket To Anywhere.” (This is just for the purposes of the promo video; the songs do not abut on the LP.)

For my taste, the whole thing seems a little too theatrical, a little too well-scrubbed, like the soundtrack to the spring musical at a religious high school.

This being the Osmonds, the whole thing is performed with the utmost professionalism, and it’s kinda catchy here and there … but ultimately, it just doesn’t hit a nerve for me.

Audiences in other countries loved it: According to Wiki, The Plan hit No. 6 in the U.K., and its singles went Top Five there.

But American album buyers only sent The Plan to No. 58 on the charts — a letdown compared to predecessor LPs Crazy Horses (No. 14, 1972) and Phase III (No. 10, 1971.) By the standards of religious albums, The Plan was a strong success; by the standards of mainstream pop, it was a misfire.

(It’s true that bands appealing to the teenybop market tend to have short, torrid runs of popularity … and maybe the Osmonds’ time would have been up in 1973 even if they’d released a fully secular album. As it was, they chose to take a chance; commercially, it did not pay off.)

Which brings us back to WAEB in the Lehigh Valley, where listeners highly rated The Plan, even though the region is not particularly a stronghold of the Mormon faith.

In the invaluable ARSA database of local radio airplay charts, only five charts mention The Plan — one apiece from Buffalo, N.Y.; Oklahoma City; Provo, Utah (a Number Three hit there, not surprisingly); Windsor, Ontario, Canada; and Allentown.

That doesn’t mean The Plan wasn’t popular anywhere else. Some Top Forty stations’ airplay charts focused heavily on singles, paying little or no attention to LPs. And the ARSA database is not comprehensive, so there could be additional local charts with The Plan that haven’t yet been scanned in.

Still, the available evidence suggests that the Lehigh Valley embraced this record in a way that didn’t happen just about anywhere else.

The WAEB chart came out a good two months after the album did. So the placement of The Plan must have been based on genuine popularity, rather than being a pre-emptive strike on the station’s part. (i.e., “the kids love the Osmonds, and this new album will probably be hot, so we’ll put it on our Top Ten.”)

The only explanation I can think of for The Plan‘s strong local sales is that eternal shifter of units: Tour dates.

The Osmonds played the Great Allentown Fair — a major annual event, held around Labor Day — in 1973. They’d played the fair the year before, according to the local paper, and would be back yet again in 1975 and 1978. Presumably the anticipation of their upcoming gig drove the local kids out to their local record stores to pick up The Plan.

The Osmonds gigged in lots of other places where The Plan didn’t chart, so that doesn’t seem like an ironclad reason.

But at this distance, trying to peer back into the haze of a distant late summer, that’s as much as I can come up with.

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Why me, indeed.

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A roundabout Wikipedia journey this afternoon reminded me of something I’ve said before:

While I can sing you significant chunks of many pop hits of the Seventies, I’m totally ignorant of their country counterparts.

I was raised in a house where country music was pretty much disdained, and I’ve been content to maintain that attitude into almost-middle-age. (Today’s “country” hasn’t changed my mind.)

In an effort to right that possible wrong, or at least to offer something like fair play, I decided to listen to the Number One country hits from the summer of 1973 and see what I thought of them.

I chose the year not quite at random: The summer of ’73 was the summer of my birth. It also felt too obvious to go for a big round anniversary like 40 years. We bloggers do that all the time.

So here we go. Anything good on?

Week ending June 16: Tammy Wynette, “Kids Say The Darndest Things.” Knowing nothing about it, I pegged this as a weeper in which a wide-eyed child of divorce looks up at his/her mommy and innocently asks when Daddy’s coming home.

I wasn’t quite right, but I was close enough: The wee ones talk about divorce, mention Daddy’s absence and drop cuss words.

It’s kind of a one-joke setup that shows its hand early, leaving us with no alternative but to enjoy the relentlessly skittering xylophone.

(How much work do xylophone players in Nashville get, anyway? If this tune made the percussionist enough for a down payment on a new Monte Carlo, I guess it was worth it.)

Week ending June 23: Jeanne Pruett, “Satin Sheets.” This one crossed over onto the pop Top 40, and I’ve heard it on rebroadcast Casey Kasem American Top 40 shows.

A real weeper, this, with steel guitar and a somewhat less cloying lyric than “Kids Say The Darndest Things.”

A couple more chord changes might have been nice, though. Those famously clever and inventive Nashville songwriters didn’t really knock themselves out on this one.

(Wiki tells me — and feel free to read this paragraph in a Casey voice — the song was actually written by an unknown songwriter from Minnesota farm country who spent three years trying to get someone to listen to it, and was eventually rewarded with a big hit for his trouble. Nice backstory, but it’s still kind of a cookie-cutter song.)

Week ending June 30: “Don’t Fight The Feelings of Love,” Charley Pride. The second of three country Number Ones in ’73 for the ex-minor league ballplayer.

And whaddya know, it rollicks a little bit, in a root-fifth kind of way.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I like it; and I’m a little hard put to explain why it was such a big hit, as it doesn’t have one of those killer melodic or lyrical twists that really stick in the mind.

But it doesn’t offend me, and it gets in and out in a spare two minutes.

Week of July 7: “Why Me,” Kris Kristofferson. Yeesh. Another tune that became a good-sized pop crossover success, spending 19 weeks in the pop Top 40.

I’ve never been able to stand it myself, in between Kristofferson’s froggy croak and a lyric that would go nicely in Hallmark’s “For A Religious Friend In Turmoil” section.

(I’m also acquainted with the song from Elvis Presley’s mid-’70s shows, when it served as a vehicle for featured backup singer J.D. Sumner. I don’t care for it much in that setting either.)

Weeks ending July 14 and 21: “Love is the Foundation,” Loretta Lynn. Apparently Faith Hill and Conway Twitty have both had their ways with this one as well.

They didn’t have to remember much. There’s kind of a spare construction here — a single verse, twice through the chorus, and done.

(Is it, or was it, a general rule that country audiences don’t demand as many hooks or arranging touches as pop listeners do? Even a one- or two-chord pop hit — “Everyday People,” say, or “Rhiannon” — goes more places than these songs do.)

I’d call this one a sludgy and fairly uninspiring ballad myself; the hints of lust and cheatin’ don’t really add that much spice.

Week ending July 28: “You Were Always There,” Donna Fargo. Please tell me this isn’t about Jesus …

… no, but it’s only marginally less maudlin. It’s a song from a daughter to one or another deceased parent, ruing the fact that they never took the time to talk about anything substantive.

I can see why this was big, but it ain’t my cup of tears.

Week ending Aug. 4: “Lord, Mr. Ford,” Jerry Reed. I was sorta hoping this was a raging political screed aimed at the occupant of the White House, until I remembered Mr. Nixon was still president in the summer of ’73.

No, instead this is a fast-talking, fed-up, somewhat corn-poney recitation about the evils and frustrations of the automobile.

It ain’t great, but it tears up everything around it.

And I bet a few months later, after those Ay-rabs dropped an oil embargo on our landau-roofed asses, it sounded awful prescient.

Week ending Aug. 11: “Trip to Heaven,” Freddie Hart. Does this trip involve driving? ‘Cause Jerry Reed tells me driving’s a pain in the arse.

More straightforward acoustic-guitar raking here, cut from familiar musical cloth. Somehow this song makes me imagine a dance hall in Texas, chock full of couples two-stepping slowly around in each others’ arms.

Which is fine as far as it goes — the world needs honky-tonk shitkicker love songs as much as it needs any other style of music.

I suspect, though, that 100 other country singers released 100 (or 1,000) other songs that sounded just like this in ’73, and I’m not sure how to explain why this one landed at the top of the heap.

Week ending August 18: “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty. Country songwriters sure love their specific references: Nothing establishes credibility like a name-drop of a Chevy truck, some Hank Junior on the radio, or, in this case, two Southern states separated by one big river.

(Hey, has anyone suggested that Florida Georgia Line cover this song? You’d have four of the most populous states south of the Mason-Dixon line wrapped up, even before the song started.)

Anyway: There’s just enough snap, energy and shared spark here to put this above the rest of the pack.

And, speaking as we were about those special touches that set a song apart, check out how the rhythm moves from a sort of country canter in the verses to a rocky shuffle in the choruses. That’s a perfect example of the kind of effort that sets a good record apart.

Weeks ending Aug. 25 and Sept. 1: “Everybody’s Had The Blues,” Merle Haggard.

I wasn’t expecting a song called “Everybody’s Had The Blues” to knock me flat with lyrical innovation, and this one doesn’t. (Again, something more than the sparsest of repeated lyrics might have helped.)

But as a straight slice of no-nonsense country, it does its job.

Also, kinda cool the way the band breaks time for the lines, “A lonely song / Someone is gone,” and “Love, hate / Want, wait.”

Weeks ending Sept. 8, 15 and 23: “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” Conway Twitty. Yup, him again.

I’ve heard this one — it cracked the pop Top 40 — and I’m not gonna bother listening to it again. If you want to, knock yourself out:

(OK, the bum-bum-bums are a catchy touch.)

So, yeah. Not sure why I spent so much time taking that trip.

But now, when someone brings up country, I can say with a little more familiarity that I’ve been that way before.

Bum bum bum.

Encore Performances: Feb. 17, 1973: We gotta be extra careful that we don’t build our hopes up too high.

From the old blog, February 2010.

Somebody — it was either Travelin’ Jim Bartlett or Tom Nawrocki — recently blogged about a friend of theirs who heard a February 1973 AT40 and was surprised at the number of songs that slipped completely off the airwaves and out of memory after they fell off the 40.

Well, I heard that countdown.

This one was sufficiently mediocre that I don’t have a lot to say about most of the songs. They’re just sort of … there.
But I’ll bold my favourites just for continuity’s sake.

(Oh, yeah, as for the week that was: This was the week when Wally Cox died, Steve McNair was born, and Ohio became the first state to post a highway sign in metric. Yeah, that went pretty well.)

Anyway:

No. 40, debut: Gladys Knight et al, “Neither One Of Us Wants To Be The First to Say Goodbye.”
“It’s sad to think / We’re not gonna make it” is a pretty great opening line, as they go.
Check out this vid for Gladys in her prime — and don’t forget to turn on your radio for stereo television!

No. 39: For the folks listening to WYNG in Goldsboro, N.C., it’s a finely sketched portrait of a conflicted badass:
Curtis Mayfield with “Superfly.”
(What, you were expecting “Coward of the County”?)

If you’re noticing a pattern, you’re right: Soul and funk will be the saving graces of this week’s countdown.

No. 38: Seals and Crofts, “Hummingbird.” Just too laid back.
My wife, about a minute in: “How much longer do we have to listen to this?”

No. 37, debut: Doobie Brothers, “Jesus Is Just Alright.” Not bad, not great. Just enough riffy rock mojo to carry a slim excuse for a song.

No. 36: Bread, “Aubrey.” Casey introduces this by listing the members of the band and describing them as “the ingredients of Bread.”
Hyuk hyuk.
Some pretty poor lyrics here: “We tripped the light and danced together to the moon / But where was June?
Isn’t “moon/June,” like, the definitive example of a lyrical cliche?

No. 35: Anne Murray, “Danny’s Song.”

No. 34: Gallery, “Big City Miss Ruth Ann.”

No. 33: Bobby Womack, “Harry Hippie.”
I don’t have much use for the song, but if you don’t know the bittersweet story behind it, click here.

No. 32: Fifth Dimension, “Living Together, Growing Together.” This sounds like it could have been written for a “Sesame Street”-style kids’ show … or, with a few lyrical alterations, for a bad comedy movie about a husband-and-wife team of pot growers.

No. 31: Billy Paul, “Me and Mrs. Jones.”
“A great song,” Casey enthuses, and ain’t it so.

No. 30: James Brown, “I Got Ants In My Pants.” I love the fact that James’ unique, and sometimes flat-out bizarre, style could creep onto the Forty every once in a while.
“He’s one of a kind, he’s King Soul,” Casey says, and again, ain’t it so.

No. 29: Eagles, “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” For some reason I like this a lot better than any of the other country tunes in the band’s repertoire.
That doesn’t mean I like it, though.

No. 28, debut: Moody Blues, “I’m Just A Singer In A Rock’n’Roll Band.”
Hey, wouldn’t the whole “I’m just a singer” lyrical conceit work a lot better if it didn’t sound like there were three singers, all of them drenched in Mike Curb-style echo?

No. 27: Chuck Berry, “Reelin’ and Rockin’.” I had forgotten that Chuck had another hit after “My Ding-A-Ling.”
According to Wiki, this was Chuck’s last Top 40 hit.
Unfortunately, Chuck was/is the kind of guy who would cheerfully flog the life out of a formula; and as a result, we get not nearly enough clangorous chugging guitar, and way too many “cleverly rewritten” verses.
I lasted until a quarter to five and then took my leave.

No. 26: Joni Mitchell, “You Turn Me On I’m A Radio.” I seem to remember Joni wrote this with the express intention of getting onto Top 40 radio under her own name.
She wrote a lot better than this.

No. 25, debut: “Also Sprach Zarathusra,” Deodato.
Do I like this or “Joy” better? It’s a tough call.
The humid Fender Rhodes piano and the Steve Cropper-ish guit make this a winner, above and beyond most of the funk-classical remakes that would emerge in the years to come.
(Scoff that, Walter Murphy.)

No. 24: Wings, “Hi Hi Hi.” Proof that sex, drugs and rock’n’roll can actually be horribly boring in the wrong hands.

No. 23: Don McLean, “Dreidel.”
“The spinnin’ don’t stop when you leave the cradle”?
Wha’?

No. 22: Bette Midler, “Do You Want To Dance?”
As I’ve said before, I actually quite enjoy the sound and feel of this, at least for the first minute or so.
But, although The Divine Miss M has a formidable set of pipes, I don’t think she navigates the key change all that well; she sounds flat, and it’s not a sexy or appealing flat.

No. 21: Loggins and Messina, “Your Mama Don’t Dance.”
No, and this ain’t gonna change her mind.

No. 20: For the listeners of KXOL in Fort Worth, Texas, it’s Brighter Side of Darkness with “Love Jones.”
I’m willing to forgive my usual rule against opening voice-overs for this one, just because it includes the line, “I don’t wanna bore you with a long, irrelevant conversation;” and because the entire damn thing is a voice-over.
“My test paper? I put nothin’ but my name on it … I guess anybody can have a love jones.”

If I don’t stop listening to this on YouTube, I might end up bolding it.

No. 19: Dr. Hook, “Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

No. 18: Blue Ridge Rangers, “Jambalaya.”
Casey notes that CCR never got a record to Number One, then delivers a rare smackdown, noting that Fogerty won’t get there with this record either:
“It’s at Number Eighteen, and (voice softens) it’s not climbing.”
Ouch.

No. 17: “Trouble Man,” Marvin Gaye.

No. 16: Jermaine Jax, “Daddy’s Home.”
See what I mean about having a hard time coming up with stuff to say?

No. 15: O’Jays, “Love Train.” Gamble and Huff set off THE BOMB. So much energy and ecstasy coursing through this.
Up seven spots and moving.

No. 14: King Harvest, “Dancing In The Moonlight.”
Random trivia fact: King Harvest keyboardist Ron Altbach later floated into the Beach Boys’ orbit, co-writing several late-’70s tracks and co-producing 1979’s truly dreadful “M.I.U. Album.”

No. 13: Edward Bear, “Last Song.”

No. 12: “Superstition,” Stevie Wonder. This scorches everything preceding it, leaving only “Love Train” standing, the way a forest fire will spare the occasional oak.

No. 11: For the ghetto-fabulous folks listening to WMOU in Berlin, New Hampshire, it’s War with “The World Is A Ghetto.”
Great, evocative, gloomy ambient funk. And really, are things any better now?

No. 10: John Denver, “Rocky Mountain High.”

No. 9: Casey talks about how the data from the now-legendary 100 retail stores is run through “a data processing computer.”
Can you feel the snazzy?

Anyway, the punch card spit out for No. 9 says it’s Timmy Thomas, “Why Can’t We Live Together?”
Semi-OK, not particularly evocative, bland funk.

No. 8: Lobo, “Don’t Expect Me To Be Your Friend.”
People blame bands like Yes for laying the groundwork for punk rock; but I think bland Top 40 pablum like this had something to do with it as well.

No. 7: “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” Spinners. Thom Bell represents.
I told ya soul and funk would provide the only highlights this week.
The quality gap between the worlds of black soul and white pop was never wider than in February 1973 … I imagine all the pop producers holding a summit meeting to address their lack of competitiveness.

No. 6: Steely Dan, “Do It Again.”
OK, I take that back — there were a few honkies doing worthwhile work here and there.

(Incidentally, someone has finally gotten around to posting Looking Glass’ “Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne,” a hit from later in ’73, onto YouTube. Go listen to that while you’re here. The vocal sounds like Donald Fagen with a dash of Terry Kath, which ain’t a bad mixture.)

No. 5: Roberta Flack, “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”
Of course, this was inspired by Don McLean, which inspires a trivia question I would send Casey if he were still in position to answer:
How many times has a song written about a specific artist been on the chart in the same week as a hit by that artist?

No. 4: “Dueling Banjos,” Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell. Hey, how come it’s called “Dueling Banjos” when one of the instruments is clearly a guitar?

I used to be baffled about the success of this song.
I still am, kind of.
But I’ve decided that the banjo is a quintessential American roots instrument; and it’s only fair that such an instrument should get to kick up its heels on a Top Ten hit every so often.
Now, when do the hammer dulcimer and the diddley bow get their time in the spotlight?

No. 3: Hurricane Smith, “Oh Babe What Would You Say?”

No. 2: Carly Simon, “You’re So Vain.”
Let’s start an Internet rumour: This song is really about Telly Savalas.
Go post that on a couple dozen chat boards.
And remember, you heard it here first.

No. 1: “Crocodile Rock,” Elton John.
I’ve done a lot of bashing of Seventies rock stars for borrowing licks’n’tricks from the Fifties, but I think Elton pulls it off here.
He’s not just pulling on the leather jacket so he can bust poses; there’s a real energy and drive here that does the pomaded pioneers proud.
That said, I still ain’t gonna bold it.

Oh, and here are the other Number Ones for the week:
Soul: “Love Train”
Country (not much of that on this week’s chart): “I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me,” Merle Haggard
LP chart: “The World Is A Ghetto,” War

Five for the Record: Steely Dan, “Razor Boy.”

A recurring feature in which I look at something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to clearly state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: Track Two, Side One, from Steely Dan’s second album, Countdown to Ecstasy. Released July 1973. Also released as the B-side to the “Show Biz Kids” single (peak: No. 61) the following month.

And here’s why I like it:

1. The groove. What … exactly … is that groove? It’s laid-back and vaguely Latin — sort of a dejected, rain-soaked cha-cha. Or maybe it’s bossa nova; the mellow vibraphone licks would support that diagnosis. But then Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s swooping pedal steel guitar fits more perfectly atop it than any pedal steel has ever fit atop a Latin jazz groove. I have no idea what this shotgun combination is in the long run, but I love the way it kicks its tin can down the street.

2. The players.Even in their earliest days, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen weren’t shy about calling top guns to bring their songs to life. “Razor Boy” gets its pulse in part from Ray Brown, one of jazz’s greatest upright bass players and an absolute rock, whose handiwork is briefly audible at the very end of the song. Also, Victor Feldman, one of Becker and Fagen’s first-call session men, plays the vibes parts (and possibly some of the percussion, as well.) The song is subtly but noticeably better for their presence, and I’m glad Becker and Fagen had the cojones — and the budget — to augment their core rock n’ roll band with some jazz aces.

3. The subject. “Razor Boy” is one of those songs that leaves you wondering who the narrator might be singing to — and what they’ll do when the razor boy comes to take their fancy things away. I tend to prefer the “Like a Rolling Stone” theory: In “Razor Boy,” like Dylan’s masterpiece, the singer is addressing the baser, more materialistic side of his own personality:

You’d gamble or give anything to be in with / The better half
But how many friends must I have to begin with / To make you laugh?

(The later line “You think no tomorrow will come when you lay down / You can’t refuse” echoes Dylan’s “Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse,” too.)

4. The harmony. I would rather hear Fagen sing harmony with himself than hear the hired studio guns do it. (I like to hear the studio cats play, but the sound of Steely Dan is Fagen’s voice.) The arranging touch that lifts this song at the chorus and opens it up is as simple as a second track of high harmony in that distinctive Passaic drawl.

OK, I guess the entrance of the triangle helps too.

5. The chart placement. You knew my inner chart geek was going to make its way into this somewhere (he usually sneaks in at the end.) And sure enough, the ARSA database of local radio play turns up an interesting nugget: “Razor Boy” is listed on exactly one survey, from WLRA-FM in Joliet, Illinois, where it reached No. 18 on the local chart the week of Sept. 10, 1973.

The standard disclaimer applies: The ARSA database is not comprehensive. It consists only of surveys that people have not only saved, but scanned and submitted. “Razor Boy” might have snuck onto other surveys, on other weeks, at other stations that took the liberty of playing a B-side, as Top 40 stations used to be able to do.

I kinda like the thought of “Razor Boy” being a rare treasure, though.

Sure, Steely Dan’s following is large enough that no officially released song of theirs is truly obscure. But some are better-known than others. And I like to think of “Razor Boy” as a less-traveled street — a pleasure reserved for people who really know Countdown to Ecstasy, and people in one particular city in the late summer of 1973 who recognized the subdued genius of a song about “a cold and windy day.”

Three to get ready and four to fly.

My four regular readers know I’m semi-obsessed with old American Top 40 countdowns and the Grateful Dead.

The two never crossed paths. But, inspired by something I heard in the car the other day, I felt like wasting a couple hundred words recounting a curious attempt to bring the two together.

The Dead couldn’t have cared less about hit singles, an attitude shared by many of their hip/underground/album-oriented contemporaries.

Not until 1987 did they hit the Top 40 with “Touch of Grey.” And, as if to prove their indifference and/or independence, they played entire shows in the summer and fall of ’87 without performing their hit — not exactly standard music-business procedure.

You might think that, left to its own whims, the band would ignore the singles market completely. (Remember, this was a group that semi-seriously considered distributing its records through ice-cream trucks. Standard music-business practices clearly were not a high priority.)

But no. When the band started its own independent record company in 1973, the first album release, Wake of the Flood, was accompanied by a single.

Even when Garcia and Co. didn’t have corporate suits to answer to, they still saw fit to put out a 45.

Maybe they thought a hit, however unlikely, would bolster the esteem and the finances of their new record label. Or maybe they just smoked a bunch of weed and decided to contradict people’s expectations.

At any rate, they made an unlikely choice for the A-side.

“Let Me Sing Your Blues Away” was a bit of countryish funk co-written by keyboardist Keith Godchaux and Dead house lyricist Robert Hunter. It would turn out to be Godchaux’s only lead vocal in seven-plus years with the band.

Godchaux’s singing is perfectly good, especially by the standards of his bandmates. But the tune wanders, the words are hackneyed in places, and the whole thing comes off like leftover Bonnie & Delaney.

(There is a nifty reference to Caseyland in the opening verse: Not a cloud in the sky, such a sunny day / Push in the button, let the Top Ten play.” Shame that no one seems to have heard it, according to the ARSA database.)

What’s interesting — and a precursor to “Touch of Grey” — is the lack of onstage commitment the Dead gave their single.

“Let Me Sing Your Blues Away” was performed only six times onstage, all between Sept. 8 and 21, 1973.

The Wake of the Flood album came out Oct. 15 of that year. If the single was released concurrently (I can’t find an exact release date), that means the band had already stopped performing its single before even putting it out. One wonders why they bothered.

Also, I’ve heard at least half of those live versions, and I have yet to hear one that suggests the Dead ever really learned the song’s many chord changes. (I had the Sept. 17 Syracuse show on in my car yesterday, which is what got me started on this whole thought-train.)

Check out this version — the first of the six — taken from the Sept. 8 gig at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.

The band is clearly taking a test it hasn’t studied for. (If nothing else, listen to what happens between about 2:25 and 2:35.) What’s more, this version is actually better and more smoothly performed than the Syracuse version nine days later.

So, what we have here is a single that not only didn’t get played live, but that the band couldn’t play live, even to its own shaggy “professional” standard. Only the Dead (or, I suppose, their future Arista Records labelmates Milli Vanilli) would do something like that.

“Touch of Grey” brought a new, younger group of fans into Deadland, causing no small amount of tension between old-school Deadheads and newbies who were unschooled in Dead culture.

It would have been interesting, had “Let Me Sing” become a hit, to see whether that same schism would have happened 15 years earlier, and how that would have affected the Dead’s long-term trajectory.

But, thanks to the band’s (how to put this?) lackadaisical approach to the music business, that never came to pass.

Encore Performances: Sept. 22, 1973: Up all night with Freddy King.

My main man Jim Bartlett recently heard the American Top 40 countdown from the week ending Sept. 22, 1973, and wasn’t too thrilled with it.

I remembered that I’d blogged this one song-by-song a couple of years ago at my old blog. And so — in a spirit not of correction or disagreement, but merely of impish counterpoint — I dug out that review, tightened it up a little and took out a couple four-letter words. Here goes:

Return with us, won’t you, to a distant, different, autumnal America, with Casey Kasem as your guide?

Here’s what was happening in the week ending Sept. 22, 1973:

* Time magazine features a burlesque cartoon hamburger on its cover, teasing a story about McDonald’s.
But the real meat of the week’s news is a story in which Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal threatens hikes in the price of oil as a consequence of America’s support of Israel.
Just a few weeks later, following the start of the Yom Kippur War, the threat would come true, triggering the energy crisis of 1973.

* Musicians Gram Parsons, Jim Croce and Hugo Winterhalter die — Parsons by drugs and alcohol, Croce in a plane crash and Winterhalter of cancer.
Croce’s death triggers new interest in his work. He will posthumously have a No. 1 hit single, and will hold the Nos. 1 and 2 positions on the album charts the following January.
Parsons does not attain the same mainstream interest, but remains a cult artist of great fascination for country-rock types.
Winterhalter remains best-known, then and now, for his 1956 easy-listening hit “Canadian Sunset.

* Americans get to know the fall’s crop of new network television shows, including short-timers like “The New Adventures of Perry Mason,” “Calucci’s Department” and “The Girl with Something Extra.”
The season’s most memorable new shows, “Kojak” and “Happy Days,” will not debut until later on.

* Johnny Unitas makes his debut in the unfamiliar sky-blue-and-yellow garb of the San Diego Chargers after 16 years as a Baltimore Colt.
Unitas’s passing line is a meager 6-for-17 for 55 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions as the Washington Redskins stomp San Diego 38-0.
Unitas rallies to win the following week’s game against Buffalo, but it is his final win as an NFL starting quarterback.

* The Yankees have only three more games to play at historic old Yankee Stadium, which will close following the 1973 season for two years of extensive renovations.
But the biggest baseball story in New York — and everywhere else — is the Mets, who have climbed from fourth place to first over the past two weeks in the up-for-grabs National League East.

* Atlanta’s Henry Aaron is closing in on Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers, which he will reach the following April.
Aaron is not baseball’s home-run leader for the 1973 season, though. As of Sept. 22, that title belongs to his teammate Davey Johnson, who has a remarkable 43 dingers despite never hitting more than 18 in any previous season.
(There were no such things as steroid rumors in 1973; a home run was still a pure and wonderful thing.)

* Helen Dollaghan’s crab-zucchini casserole recipe runs in the Denver Post.

* Kate Jackson, Lloyd Bochner and Cheryl Ladd star in CBS’s made-for-TV movie of the week, “Satan’s School for Girls.”

* The Lewiston, Maine, Evening Journal advertises a “HEAVY! DYNAMITE! FAR OUT!” sale on LPs at local store Grants City.
The top-selling LPs at Grants are Jethro Tull’s “A Passion Play,” “Chicago VI” and Cat Stevens’ “Foreigner.”
LPs with a manufacturer’s list price of $5.98 are being sold at Grants for as little as $2.94.

* The Grateful Dead wrap up an eight-show East Coast run featuring guest horn players Martin Fierro and Joe Ellis.
The innovation is not welcomed by most Deadheads, and this is the only run of shows in the Dead’s long history to feature a regular horn section.

And now, the Top 40 with Casey, with favourites in bold as always:

No. 40: Jax 5ive, “Get It Together.”

No. 39: “In The Midnight Hour,” Cross Country. I think an acoustic guitar-driven cover of “Midnight Hour” could be magic in the hands of Van Morrison. These guys don’t quite make it sing.

No. 38: “To Know You Is To Love You,” BB King. I always enjoy seeing the King of the Blues score on the pop charts. C’mon — 300 gigs a year for 15 or 20 years oughta entitle him to that.
I don’t think the song is astonishingly incredible, though.

No. 37: “Angel,” Aretha Franklin. The one that starts with Aretha going over to visit her sister Carolyn.
Beautiful and soulful like everything Aretha.

No. 36: “Rocky Mountain Way,” Joe Walsh. One of two songs on this countdown I played in a band I was in, back around 2001. I kept coming in too early on the chord change during the talk-box solo.

No. 35: “Hey Girl (I Like Your Style),” The Temptations. Don’t have any notes on this so it must not have floored me.

No. 34: “Ecstasy,” Ohio Players.
Every AT40 countdown has a crave-song — a song I listen to obsessively for hours, if not days, afterward.
Previous countdowns’ crave-songs have ranged from “Hot Rod Lincoln” by Commander Cody to “Sweet Thing” by Chaka Khan and Rufus.
This is this week’s crave-song.

I love the churchy piano … and the five-bar structure, which makes things just a little different but not too off-kilter …
… and most of all, Junie Morrison’s fervid, feverish lead vocal, which I’m going to guess is at least 50 percent improvised.
(I have trouble imagining the words of this song written out on a page.)

Junie’s voice lives about halfway between Teddy Pendergrass and Marvin Gaye, which is a damned nice place to be.
Only about 40 seconds into the song, he sticks a falsetto note that makes every hair I have left stand straight up.
In other singers’ hands, that would be overkill; but in Morrison’s case, he’s just locked in.

No. 33: “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” Chicago.
Gotta love the four-on-the-floor section at the end — a rare example of Chicago (esp. Cetera-fronted Chicago) bursting with energy.
Among their best singles, I’d argue, though “Saturday In The Park” will always be Number One in my heart.

No. 32: “I’ve Got So Much To Give,” Barry White. OK, this bold is mostly out of respect for the big man … that double-time high-hat thing kinda doesn’t do it for me.

No. 31: “Why Me,” Kris Kristofferson. More singer-songwriter self-flagellation, with an extra helping of … Jesus!
Oh boy.

Drinking game: Do a shot of whiskey every time Kris sings the word “Jesus.” You’ll be speaking Welsh in no time.

Elvis used to let his bass singer, J.D. Sumner, sing lead on this one onstage.

No. 30: “Stoned Out Of My Mind,” Chi-Lites, for the good burghers digging WVAM in Altoona, Pa.
Nice propulsive popping groove — time-and-a-half for that tambourine player! — matched to a lyric full of great old-school soul turns of phrase (“When you led me to the water, I drank it / I drank more than I could hold.”)
This could easily have been my crave-song if that meddling Junie Morrison hadn’t interfered.

From where I was, that opening chord sounded a lot like the opening chord of “Grease” … I started singing that descending horn line.
(You know the one.)

Casey doesn’t say the title before the record, but he does after the record.

No. 29: “Ghetto Child,” Spinners. I alternated between being charmed by this song (“I was just a boy punished for a crime that wasn’t mine”) and being put off by that weird phrasing on the chorus.
There’s, like, a bar with six-and-a-half beats in it.

Nice trading vox on this one. It’s a wonderful thang to have a group with multiple talented singers.

No. 28: “You’ve Never Been This Far Before,” Conway Twitty. No. 1 country for the fourth straight week.
Not as teeth-gritting as it might have been.
Neil Diamond could probably rock this one nicely.

No. 27: “Get Down,” Gilbert O’Sullivan. “He’ll be visiting the U.S. next month,” Casey says, before and after the song.
What — is he kipping on your couch, Casey?

No. 26: “The Morning After,” Maureen McGovern. Businesslike Hollywood ballad with some pretty good harpsichord. 11 weeks on the chart; ex-Number One.

No. 25: “I Believe In You,” Johnnie Taylor. I continue to swear that this song is altogether too close, musically, to Van Morrison’s “Warm Love.”

Casey reminds us that he has another of those damn “Top 40 Artists of the Rock Era” specials coming up in a few weeks.
“Hope you’ll mark it down,” he says jauntily.
On what? My math folder?

No. 24: “Free Ride,” the Edgar Winter Group. Chunky, catchy, well-turned albeit eventually meaningless pop.
These guys were like a Grade B rock supergroup:
The “They Only Come Out At Night” album features cult guitar ace Ronnie Montrose (Sammy Hagar’s first employer); Dan Hartman of “I Can Dream About You” fame; Rick Derringer producing and guesting; and former Mitch Ryder drummer John “Johnny Bee” Badanjek.

No. 23: “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Gladys Knight and the Pips. I don’t have to speak on this, right?
You know this record is the bomb.
Up 10 notches in its second week.

No. 22, debut: Stones, “Angie.”
I still say “Moonlight Mile” is the best ballad these guys ever turned out; but I will, when pressed, admit a mild fondness for this.
Even though I know Mick Jagger is a poseur, I enjoy his vocal on this one.

No. 21: Doobies, “China Grove.” Can’t tell whether Casey calls this a “cookin’ town” or a “cookin’ sound.” Either works, I guess.
Some nifty touches for an ex-biker band, like the way they shift into half-time for the line “You can even hear the music at night.”

No. 20: “Yes We Can Can,” Pointer Sisters, rockin’ the ears glued to WBSR in Pensacola, Florida.
Stripped-down, uplifting, positive funk, like that formerly produced by …

No. 19: … “If You Want Me To Stay,” Sly and the Family.
10th week on the charts.
I could just listen to the bass line on this — it’s shifty, and funky, and sounds like it was played during a really great jam.
(Even though I know it might have been overdubbed by Sly in between overdubbing the drums and overdubbing the keyboards.)

No. 18: “Theme from Cleopatra Jones,” Joe Simon and the Main Streeters.
This is really two-bit Curtis Mayfield; and Simon’s voice is not up to some of the bellows he demands from it.
I’m just bolding it because ” ‘Theme from Cleopatra Jones’ by Joe Simon and the Main Streeters” absolutely screams early-’70s, more so than any other title and performer credit on any other single.
It’s like the perfect combination.

No. 17: “Live and Let Die,” Wings.
The theme song was the best part of the movie … uh, unless you found Baron Samedi frightening.

I think this is about the best anyone could do if challenged to write a song called “Live and Let Die.”
This is as good as that title gets.

No. 16: “Here I Am (Come And Take Me),” Al Green. Ex-Top Ten record, and absolutely exquisite.

No. 15: Allman Brothers Band, “Ramblin’ Man.”
Any time a band not known for singles produces a three-and-a-half-minute song that fulfills the basic requirements of a single, without compromising the band’s essential spirit, that’s cause for celebration.
And when the band pulls it off in the face of personal tragedy, that’s even bigger.

Dickey Betts’ flat, nasal delivery and his tendency to repeat every guitar lick at least six times are mere quibbles in the face of the Allmans’ triumph.

From the Number One LP in the nation, “Brothers and Sisters.”

No. 14: Eddie Kendricks, “Keep On Truckin’.” The breakdown goes on too long, and what the hell’s up with the gong crash?
Up 16 spots.

No. 13: War, “Gypsy Man.” Ex-Top Ten. They’ve been better and funkier, really.

No. 12: Elton John, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.”
I think I bolded this out of a sense of noblesse oblige; I don’t really buy the notion of Reg and his mates going out on Saturday night for some aggro.

No. 11: “My Maria,” B.W. Stevenson. OK song. Seemed to me like a predecessor of the crisp acoustic-rooted pop we hear today … like, I dunno, Jason Mraz or Sister Hazel or something.

No. 10: “That Lady,” Isley Brothers. Casey tells the story of how the Isleys were discovered on a Greyhound bus.

What’s cooler than having multiple strong vocalists in your band?
Call-and-response.

No. 9: “Touch Me In The Morning,” Diana Ross. Is she contractually required to have a spoken-word voiceover on every single?

No. 8: “Higher Ground,” Stevie Wonder. Up five notches for Stevie’s 15th Top Ten record.
He’s like Aretha — I need only say “Stevie” and the bold is obligatory.

No. 7: “Half-Breed,” Cher. I liked this OK, better than most Cher songs. I found it believable as a slice of life. God knows why, since I didn’t really buy the slice-of-life depicted in …

No. 6: … “Brother Louie,” Stories. The music sets an effective mood, but the story of the “whiter-than-white” guy who “tastes brown sugar” just doesn’t do anything for me.

Maybe ’cause it doesn’t resolve:
Louie falls in love with a black girl; takes her home to his parents; has a ferocious fight; and … what?
Does he throw something off a bridge, or disappear into his girlfriend’s radio, or take out a classified ad looking for a girl who likes pina coladas?
This is the Seventies — the golden age of story-songs — and we, the audience, demand a grabbier ending than that.

No. 5: “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose?,” Dawn. Hope the people listening to WGRQ in Buffalo dug this, ’cause I sure as shit didn’t.

No. 4: “Loves Me Like A Rock,” Paul Simon and the Dixie Hummingbirds. The ‘Birds didn’t get credit on the single, I don’t think, but they get credit in this house.
I read a book about them not long ago, and this song helped them get better gigs, nicer clothes and a new van; so it’s all right with me even if I can’t buy the notion of Paul Simon fronting a gospel group.

No. 3: “Delta Dawn,” Helen Reddy. She set a record the previous week, Casey says, by becoming the sixth solo female artist to hit Number One in a calendar year.

This is my favorite Helen Reddy song, which of course ain’t saying much.
But I heard that a cappella choral intro in my head for several hours a couple of days ago — before that Junie Morrison dude chased it out.

According to Wiki, Bette Midler cut this as a single as well, but when Reddy beat her to release, Midler was forced to put out “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” as her A-side.
Reddy for the win!

Is the downtrodden, scorned, deluded Delta Dawn a metaphor for 1973 America?
Discuss.

No. 2: “We’re An American Band,” Grand Funk Railroad. The other one of the songs I used to play in that band.
I can still see Don Brewer, massive Afro rampant, barking this into a microphone while playing with overdone gestures.
And so can you!

This song would hit Number One the following week, on Mark Farner’s 25th birthday, which probably would have meant more to Mark had he written or sung the song.

And this week’s No. 1:
“Let’s Get It On,” Marvin Gaye. Usually I think this one is overdone, overplayed and overused … but y’know, I was in the mood when I heard it this time.
(In the mood for the song. Pervert.)

Hope this post was worth 90 minutes of your time.

Mundane Moments: It’s plane to see, Part Deux.

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Just as no good deed goes unpunished, no good idea goes unflogged. (See Checker, Chubby; “Let’s Twist Again.”)

Here, then, are Ten More Thoughts in the Head of the Mysterious, Reasonably Well-Tanned Stranger Photographed at Random Looking the Other Way in an Airplane Aisle, Summer 1973:

He's back for more.

1. “You know what I love about being in the sky? No malls.”

2. “You know what else I love about being in the sky? No TV.”

3. “I am D.B. Cooper. For realz. I keep a swatch of used parachute in my wallet. And none of you people know.”

4. “I’m sorry. This seat is being saved for my sweet babboo.”

5. “The Nippon Ham Fighters will be sorely disappointed if I cannot rediscover my knuckleball.”

6. “I shaved my legs for this flight.”

7. “Somewhere in the cosmos, a dead man is handing over his soul to an unborn baby. When do they come with the whiskey?”

8. “With Speed Stick Deodorant for Men, I never find myself landing on water.”

9. “That ain’t carry-on baggage in my pocket.”

10. “I have no mouth, and I must scream.”

In case you missed it, yesterday’s variations on the same theme.