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Encore Performances: Dec. 26, 1970: A kiss for luck and we’re on our way.

A friend of mine linked to this December 2010 post on his own blog. Then I shut down my blog and left him with a dead link. So I’m reposting here, so visitors to his site aren’t left wondering what he was linking to.

This is the last regular countdown of Casey Kasem’s first year of AT40.
And it features a number of idiosyncracies, including a Merry Christmas wish at the end; one song on the Forty that intentionally goes unplayed; and one of the uglier factual errors of Casey’s AT40 tenure.

But before we chronicle all that, a few historic highlights from the week ending Dec. 26, 1970:

* Admiral Elmo Zumwalt is on the cover of Time magazine, under the unusual headline “The Military Goes Mod.”
Stories inside the magazine cover a major strike by railroad workers; Pepper & Tanner, a company producing radio station jingles and commercials; and the recent passing of cartoonist Rube Goldberg.

* The Boston Bruins’ Bobby Orr occupies the cover of Sports Illustrated as the magazine’s Sportsman of the Year.

* National Lampoon magazine, like AT40, is new this year. Its December issue is Christmas-themed, and features a cover cartoon of a Chinese military jet shooting down Santa Claus.

* Don Cardwell, a member of the 1969 Miracle Mets pitching staff, is released by the Atlanta Braves after a mediocre season. His big-league career is over after 14 years.

* The last episode of the second season of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” airs on the BBC. It is perhaps best remembered for its controversial closing sketch, in which an undertaker tries to convince a man to eat his recently deceased mother.

* Tiger Beat magazine runs a cover contest in which readers can win one of David Cassidy’s puppies. Other stars teased on the front cover include Bobby Sherman, the Osmonds and the Bugaloos.

* Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley hold their celebrated meeting at the White House.

* Lillian Board, a fast-rising star in the world of track and field, dies at 22, three months after being diagnosed with terminal colorectal cancer. She held several world records and won a silver medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

* Guests on “Sesame Street” this week include members of the New York Mets and Knicks, as well as members of the cast of “Bonanza” and Bill Cosby.

* A young family in Rochester, N.Y., breathes a post-Christmas sigh of relief.
The past month-and-a-half has been especially crazy: In addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas, their first child has been born.
As it happens, the artist at Number One the week of Dec. 26, 1970, will again be in the Top Five when the family’s second child is born in July 1973.
But nobody’s thinking about any of that yet.

And now, the countdown, with favourites in bold as always.

No. 40, debut: Runt, “We Gotta Get You A Woman.”
Rundgren’s first-ever Top 40 appearance? I think so.
It has that great early-’70s Rundgren production quality. (As much as I like A Wizard/A True Star and subsequent meanderings, it’s a shame Todd flaked out before giving us one or two more straight pop albums with tunes like this.)
I happen to think the line “They may be stupid but they sure are fun” is playful, and a good example of writing in character, though I imagine not everyone in 1970 saw it the same way.

No. 39, debut: Redeye, “Games.”
This seems like an amalgam of pop influences.
The busy bass line reminds me of Motown’s James Jamerson; the vocal harmonies remind me of two of the guys from Crosby, Stills and Nash (not sure which two); and the howling lead guitar tone is taken directly from “American Woman.”
It’s not a half-bad song for all that, though.

No. 38: Down “20 points,” it’s Eric Clapton with the honky funk of “After Midnight.”

No. 37: Casey tells the story of a 12-year-old girl who spent all her money on roller skates in Detroit in 1955. And now she makes up to $25,000 a concert!
It’s Aretha Franklin with “Border Song (Holy Moses.)”
Aretha brings so much more church to the AT40 than all those explicitly religious hippie singles combined.

No. 36: Neil Diamond, “Do It.” His eighth hit this calendar year, Casey says.
With a bass-drum sound that smacks like a big wet heartbeat.

This reminds me of the auto reviewer Tom McCahill, who once described a car as being “as exciting as a pocketful of wet pancakes.”

No. 35: For the good folks listening to KAFY in Bakersfield, California, it’s James Taylor with “Fire and Rain.”
The best single thing JT ever wrote or recorded, and 14 weeks on the chart.

No. 34: Flaming Ember, “I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper.”
Snappy Detroit soul, like the kind of thing the Jax 5ive would have recorded had they wanted to be more grown-up and topical.
(Well, OK, I guess a brother band recording a song about turning their back on their brother would have been kind of unlikely.)

Wiki sez these guys are in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Wha’?

No. 33: “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden,” Lynn Anderson.
This is about as country as … oh, Taylor Swift.

No. 32: Casey plays “Patch It Up,” the B-side of Elvis’ “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.”
“Patch It Up” is a little too manic, like it’s turned up a notch too high.
In terms of pacing, it’s kinda like the Elvis equivalent of “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?”
Only not as good.

No. 31: Stephen Stills, “Love The One You’re With.” Annoying hippie krap.
Is it true that Stills had Jimi Hendrix record a guitar solo for this, then wiped it and replaced it with himself playing steel drums?

No. 30: Casey says this is “where No. 30 ought to be.”
He explains that he has to not play one of the songs on the Forty because he has to make time to play a double-sided Number One.
The song that drew the short straw: “Share The Land” by the Guess Who.
According to Pete Battistini’s AT40 book, Casey found time on the program to play two oldies, but couldn’t find time for “Share The Land.” (The oldies were apparently edited out of the XM radio rebroadcast.)

No. 29: In his second week on the chart, Elton John with “Your Song.”
Alas, Elton had not quite hit on his hitmaking formula, which was to write and arrange music so catchy, forceful, gentle or otherwise memorable that it rendered Bernie Taupin’s lyrics incidental.

No. 28: Led Zep with the overblown silliness of “Immigrant Song.”
Page’s production skills make the record sound like Vikings on the march.
But really, how did people see this skinny long-haired Limey croon “Valhalla, I am coming,” and not break into laughter?

Also, I always — for decades — interpreted the line “Our only goal will be the western shore” as “I wanna go where people twist and shout.”
Never quite understood what that had to do with conquering hordes.

No. 27: “Montego Bay,” Bobby Bloom, with 11 weeks on the 40.
Didn’t quite bold this, but I enjoy it more than I like most tropical-paradise songs (see Buffett, Jimmy.)
The percussion is catchy without being gimmicky.

No. 26, debut: Bee Gees, “Lonely Days.” Wet pancakes.

No. 25: Tom Jones, “Can’t Stop Loving You.” Would have been better if this had been the old Ray Charles tune — I bet Jonesy would have rocked that.

No. 24: Gladys Knight and the Pips, “If I Were Your Woman.”
Superb.

Sometimes I wonder what the fictional characters in songs ended up doing.
Like the girl in Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” — you think he charmed her into coming out for a ride with him, or do you think she stayed in the kitchen and made blueberry muffins?
Same deal in this song. Do you think the guy Gladys was singing to saw the light?
He would have been hard put not to.

No. 23: Chairmen of the Board with “Pay to the Piper.”
Seemed like minor Motown-style stuff to me.
I had no idea until I hit Wiki that the Chairmen’s recently deceased frontman, General Norman Johnson, wrote Honey Cone’s “Want Ads” and “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.”

No. 22: Three Dog Night, “One Man Band.” Not among their absolute finest, but enjoyable enough.
The touches of Hammond organ give this a respectable score on the SEHOQ (Smith-Earland Hammond Organ Quotient).
Plus, they stick the dismount, giving us a nice a cappella ending.
It would be a solid 9.7 if not for the Russian judge.

No. 21: Andy Kim, “Be My Baby.”
He doesn’t sound so much like Neil Diamond here … that’s about the most I can say for this unnecessary cover.

No. 20: And here’s the man himself — Neil Diamond with “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
The plunky flamenco guitar kind of distracts me; I would have liked to hear him take the first verse with piano alone.

Did any DJ, either intentionally or unintentionally, play this back to back with “I’m Not My Brother’s Keeper”?

No. 19: Perry Como’s first hit since 1958, “It’s Impossible.”
Adult contemporary in excelsis.

No. 18: Up 10 points, it’s King Floyd with — UHHHHHHHHH! — “Groove Me.”
It pains me to think that commenters on YouTube know this only as “the Homer ass groove music.”
(Don’t ask me to explain.)

No. 17: Up 13 points, it’s the Supremes and the Tempts with “River Deep, Mountain High.”
Featuring the immortal lyric, “When you were a young girl, did you have a puppy?”
I found that unaccountably funny.

No. 16: The Jax 5ive, “I’ll Be There.”
Magical, especially the beginning.
Casey says this one has moved three million copies.

No. 15: In its 14th week in the Top 20, the Carpenters with “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
I am loath to admit that, if I ever actually listened to it all the way through, I might find myself kinda connecting a little bit with this newlyweds’ tale.

No. 14: Ray Price, “For The Good Times.” On the other hand, I’ve tried to connect with this one, and never quite made it.

No. 13: Barbra Streisand, “Stoney End.”
Best thing Barbra ever did? Maybe.
It has that sort of New York City Laura Nyro-ish soul sound to it.

No. 12: Van Morrison, “Domino.”
I’ve been getting more and more into Van’s ethereal, free-form adventures lately — albums like Veedon Fleece and Common One.
But then, along comes a perfect slice of three-minute soul like this one, and I start suspecting that Van mumbling about Coleridge and Wordsworth for 10 minutes at a time might just be so much codswallop.

Plus, “Hey, Mister DJ / I just wanna hear / Some rhythm n’ blues music / On my radio / On my radio / On my radio” is one of the best lyrical ad-libs of all time.

No. 11: The Presidents (my brain always makes me want to add “of the United States of America”) with “5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love.)”
I liked this one just fine.

No. 10: Badfinger, “No Matter What.”
Out of nowhere, my wife starts singing along!
I married well.

No. 9: Brian Hyland, “Gypsy Woman.” Casey mentions that this was a hit (for someone else) in 1961, which automatically makes it suspect.
I guess it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.
Were there still gypsies in America in 1970?
Are there still now?

No. 8: Chicago, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
For the people listening to KMEN in San Bernardino, Calif.
I like the lyrical touch about the diamond watch that “stops cold dead,” which makes up a little bit for the way the next verse runs out of steam in a hail of “I don’t know”s.

But of course, Robert Lamm could sing the menu at Lums and I’d still tune in.

No. 7: Supremes, “Stoned Love.” Who needs Diana Ross, anyhow?

No. 6: An ex-Number One from the Partridge Family, “I Think I Love You.”
I can only imagine the frustration of program directors in 1970 who wanted nothing more than to never hear this again, but who were forced to keep it on the playlist week after week by the doe-eyed adoration of their teenage listeners.

No. 5: “Black Magic Woman,” Santana. I didn’t listen, but I bet Casey didn’t play “Gypsy Queen” too — and I don’t bold “Black Magic Woman” unless it comes with “Gypsy Queen.”
I’ve always loved the way they explode from one into the other.

No. 4: Dawn, “Knock Three Times.” I dislike this …

No. 3: … so, to tweak my nose, Casey plays it twice instead of playing the No. 3 song.
(This error is not noted in Pete Battistini’s book, so I think the mistake was made in the XM rebroadcast, not the original airing. The real No. 3, which I would have liked to have heard, was “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.)

No. 2: The Fifth Dimension, “One Less Bell to Answer.” Originally written for Louis Prima’s partner Keely Smith, according to Wiki.
Hmmmm.

And now, the two-sided Number One, with an unfortunate introduction:
After explaining that George Harrison was the only Beatle to grow up in a stable family setting — which is relevant to pretty much nothing — Casey mentions that George’s mom and dad are alive and well and living in the English countryside in a home their son bought them.
Unfortunately, Louise Harrison died in July 1970.
Casey would correct the error on his first regular countdown of the following year.

On the original broadcast, Casey played both “My Sweet Lord” and “Isn’t It A Pity.”
In the rebroadcast, we only hear the latter, which is a nice song, even though I’ve never been a big fan of the overloaded Spectorian sonics of All Things Must Pass.

And on that note, thus endeth the countdown, and 1970.
And this post.

January 22, 1979: C’est chic.

I don’t live-blog American Top 40 countdowns any more, but I’m still interested in record charts.

And whaddya know but the marvelous ARSA database has a hit-record chart for Allentown’s old WKAP-AM for this very week in 1979 (the week ending Jan. 22, to be specific.)

That looks like a marvelous target to waste a few hundred words on. So let’s turn on WKAP and see what we think of it, shall we? I guess I’ll put my favourites in bold, like old times:

1: The Village People, “Y.M.C.A.” This has become such a cultural touchstone that I can scarcely imagine hearing it for the first time, or the tenth time.

(I have even more trouble imagining hearing it without knowing about the homosexual subtext, though I’m led to believe quite a few Americans didn’t really know what was going on at the time.)

My dad told me once that he spent a few days at a YMCA when he first moved to Rochester in 1966. I imagine he got himself clean and had a good meal; I do not think he went so far as to do whatever he felt.

2. “Le Freak,” Chic. Cool and crisp as gin; maybe half a notch below “Good Times” but still one of those records disco doesn’t have to apologize for. This was Number One in the country that week, and had topped WKAP’s list the week before.

3. Nicolette Larson, “Lotta Love.” I much prefer this in the hands of its creator (and his ragged-but-right BFFs). Strings, horns, and a precious flute solo don’t compare to the joys of hearing Billy, Ralph and Poncho oooooooh-ing like choirboys.

4. “September,” Earth Wind & Fire. The first of several hits on this chart from performers who appeared in the “Sgt. Pepper’s” movie the previous year. The movie, however dreadful, was maybe not the career-killer some have made it out to be; it certainly didn’t stop EW&F from dropping tight funk here.

5. “A Little More Love,” Olivia Newton-John. I remember rather more of this song than I would have thought, which means I must have some fondness for it. Listening back on YouTube, though, it feels a little too turgid and bloodless to get a bold. (It gets me nowhere to tell it no.)

6. Bee Gees, “Too Much Heaven.” I can’t help it; I like them more when they strut than when they croon.

7. “My Life,” Billy Joel. I think this is the turning point when things start going to crap on the countdown. Few artists asking to be left alone have made more convincing cases.

8. “Fire,” Pointer Sisters. Another song that is probably better in the hands of its creator (and his BFFs.)

9. “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” Rod Stewart. I find this to be one big parodic goof, and pleasant enough, though I would have burned out on it double-quick if I’d heard it every hour on WKAP in 1979.

10. “We’ve Got Tonight,” Bob Seger. I like Seger well enough, and I wouldn’t turn the radio away from this, I suppose.

11. “New York Groove,” Ace Frehley. Awwwwwww yeah! Big dumb glam-style stomp, and probably my favorite song on the countdown. It’s a tradition in my family to play this in the car on road trips, any time we cross a state line (or, on one occasion, an international border) into New York state.

12. “Hold The Line,” Toto. Well-turned propulsive arena-rock, and probably the Toto song I’d want to hear if I had to hear one. That’s slim gruel as far as endorsements go, though.

13. “Fat Bottomed Girls/Bicycle Race,” Queen. OK, this might rival the Space Ace for my affections. One side of filthy, sweaty hard-rock stomp; the other of loopy, only vaguely less filthy glam-pop eccentricity.

I’m not sure how I never got more into these guys: Any band with the charisma and imagination (and pipes) of Freddie Mercury and the guitar inventiveness of Brian May seems worth checking out at length.

Most of the players on the local minor-league baseball team choose country or crunch-metal for their at-bat music. But last season, infielder Tyler Henson used “Fat Bottomed Girls.” He was a naughty, naughty boy, and I wished he’d come to bat every inning so I could hear it again.

One more note: Unless I’m missing it, this song was not even on the American Top 40 that week. On the other hand, two songs from the National Top Ten — Eric Clapton’s “Promises” and Linda Ronstadt’s “Ooh Baby Baby” — are missing from WKAP’s Top 25. One of those is a shame.

14. “How You Gonna See Me Now,” by Alice Cooper. The last of a handful of ballad hits Coop had in the latter half of the Seventies. I don’t have great use for any of ’em, I don’t think, and the others at least are catchier than this.

15. “Somewhere In The Night,” Barry Manilow. Not for me, thanks.

16. “Shake It,” Ian Matthews. Watching this on YouTube brings back absolutely no memory of it. It sounds like a hundred other records from 1978-80, and while I have a mild fondness for those production values, they’re still pretty bland.

17. “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” Foreigner. Never liked these guys either.

18. “I Will Be In Love With You,” Livingston Taylor. This is totally an impulse bold, and one I’ll regret tomorrow. This one’s also kissed with that same choking 1979 lushness, which, in this case, works in its favor. I also give it credit because I cannot read the title without phrasing it into music, which is one sign of a catchy chorus.

(One negative: Livingston, through no fault of his own, sounds like his brother slowed down a quarter-step, and I can’t help wondering why the record’s playing slow.)

19. “Our Love (Don’t Throw It All Away),” Andy Gibb. My previously stated equation regarding the Brothers Gibb (funky>>>slow) holds true for their little brother too. (Was Andy ever really funky? Maybe he should have tried it.)

20. “Don’t Hold Back,” Chanson. I should actually tear myself away from Livingston Taylor and go listen to this, because I don’t remember it. It sounds like it might be brainless disco, and sometimes that’s fun. Let’s see …

… oh, damn, this is pretty good. That opening sounds like the Brothers Johnson. I’m gonna bold this. “Don’t Hold Back,” Chanson. No parking on the dancefloor!

21. “Crazy Love,” Poco. How many damn songs have there been called “Crazy Love”? I was kinda hoping this was an earlier, rowdier version of the Allman Bros’ hit of the same name. But once I played it, I recognized it for one of those moody finger-picking country-pop hits I’ve heard a million times but didn’t know the name of. Nice acoustic-guitar sound, anyway.

22. “No Tell Lover,” Chicago. My dad had a bunch of Chicago records when I was a kid, and I could always tell Hot Streets was different from the rest. It wasn’t just the absence of Terry Kath, or the absence of a Roman numeral on the (flamingly dopey) front cover. The sound of the record was different than it had been under James William Guercio; wetter and more echoey and wet-noodley. This undistinguished Cetera ballad is pretty much the musical exemplar of that sound; listening to it is like unfolding a rain-soaked newspaper.

23. “Soul Man,” Blues Brothers. I heard a fair amount of BBs as a kid, too — enough for me to grudgingly grant them status as a legit musical band, and not a coke-fueled ego trip. This cover version doesn’t go anywhere the original didn’t, though.

24. “Lady,” Little River Band. As ballads go, I find this more memorable than many of the others on this countdowns. Still doesn’t mean I wouldn’t switch channels on it.

25. “Goodbye, I Love You,” Firefall. Not gonna go listen but I bet my comments would be substantially the same as No. 22.

So, yeah — 1979 countdowns are hard roads to travel, more often than not, and Allentown was no better or worse than the country as a whole in that regard.

Did I hear you say that there must be a catch?

Posted on

I’ve added something new to the list of Things I Know I Shouldn’t Want To Do But Might Anyway:

Badfinger is coming to town.

The band playing a free show in Bethlehem on Aug. 23 is really Badfinger in name only.

The original band’s main singers and songwriters, Pete Ham and Tom Evans, are long dead. The original fourth member, drummer Mike Gibbins, is more recently passed.

Whatever amalgamation currently calls itself Badfinger features only one original digit — rhythm guitarist and singer Joey Molland.

(I believe Molland is at far right of this photo. It should probably be illegal to advertise a 2014 band with a picture of its 1969 members, especially when most of them are dead. But it isn’t.)

So why do I want to go?

Well, because it’s free.

And because the original Badfinger was a wonderful pop band — they were scouted and signed by the Beatles for good reason — and hearing their songs played live by someone who knows how to play them should be at least a small pleasure.

And because I’m sorta curious about what sort of aging pop geeks (and how many) will come out of the woodwork on a hot August night to see a ghost band that last hit the Top 40 in 1972.

And because … well, who wouldn’t want to tell their grandkids they’d seen Badfinger?

And, lastly, because even if Molland and Co. blow chunks all over the stage, it won’t erase the original band’s legacy of great power pop songs.

Like this one:

Thirteen ways of looking at a black circle.

Thirty-seven years ago this week, John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” was topping out at its Billboard chart peak of Number Nine.

It’s always fun to imagine what role pop singles play in people’s lives — as soundtracks to love, hate, joy, pain or whatever.

Here, then, a musing on what “#9 Dream” might have meant to 13 average Americans this week in 1975 …

In Los Angeles, a faithful Beatles fan hears the song and is disappointed — as he has been with virtually everything he’s heard since 1970. One of these years, he vows, the Fab Four will see the light, get back together, and record more of the finest music known to 20th-century man. He turns off his radio and reaches for “Rubber Soul.”

In New Canaan, Connecticut, an 12-year-old girl greets each spin of the song with delight. She is only dimly aware of Lennon’s status as a rock legend, and has thought of him mainly as a groovy hitmaker ever since hearing “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” for the first time. She wonders from time to time whether he will tour, and is already planning to ask her girlfriends if they will stand on line for tickets with her.

In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, an 18-year-old boy recovering from a nasty motorcycle accident hears the song several times a day from the radio in the nurses’ station across the hall. Along with some of its hit-radio brethren, the song serves as a soundtrack to physical pain more savage than he’s ever dreamed of. In years to come, hearing the opening squirt of wah-wahed slide guitar will cause him to excuse himself and limp out of the room until the song is over.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, a 15-year-old girl is struggling with an undiagnosed hearing problem that frustrates her at school and at home. The chorus of “#9 Dream” stands out as a source of particular grief, as she can never quite figure out what Lennon is singing. Not until 2007 — after she’s written a best-selling memoir of growing up handicapped in Seventies America — does she Google the lyrics. She is both relieved and irritated to discover they were nonsense all along: “A bowakowa, pousse pousse.”

In Evansville, Indiana, a 28-year-old homemaker who has one more kid and 30 more pounds than she wants to have hears the song and thinks of Beatlemania, and times gone by, and the dreams she entertained 10 years before as the prettiest girl in her high-school graduating class. She entertains thoughts of divorce and freedom, then returns to the grocery list.

In St. Cloud, Minnesota, a six-piece showband — five thirtysomething men and a younger female singer — has just about perfected its version of “#9 Dream.” The band performs at weddings, parties, store openings and other events throughout the central part of the state, playing a regularly refreshed selection of current pop and country hits. None of the members tremendously like the song, but they’re OK with it. It’s better than “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” anyway.

In Skowhegan, Maine, a 14-year-old boy with severe stress-related insomnia finds in “#9 Dream” a ticket to a good night’s sleep. The pillowy string arrangement, and the lyrics about dreaming and spirit dances unfolding, bespeak peace and comfort to him for reasons he cannot explain. He records the song off the radio onto a stolen cassette tape, and listens to it every night for the next ten months as he drifts off to sleep.

In North Adams, Massachusetts, a 16-year-old boy buys a copy of the single after overhearing a girl on whom he has an intense crush exulting about it. He listens to it for five days, absorbing every detail; then tries to start a conversation on the sixth. She laughs. On the seventh day, the boy breaks the single into small shards and throws it away.

In Denver, Colorado, a 15-year-old boy buys not only the single but the 8-track of the “Walls And Bridges” album in a similar attempt to impress a girl in the grade ahead. When the attempt fails, he places both single and album in a cardboard box, douses it with gasoline, and sets it on fire in his driveway while his parents are out. This remains his secret until 2009, when he tells the embarrassing story on his blog. The only comment on his post comes from a reader he does not know in Massachusetts, who writes simply: “Been there, dude.”

In Olean, New York, the afternoon DJ on a small AM radio station digs his fingernails into his palms in frustration. The owner of the station — an auto dealer who cultivates a resemblance to John Wayne in style and manner — has just told him that, Top Ten song be damned, the DJ is not to play that filthy “puss-say, puss-say” song on his radio station if he, the DJ, wants to stay employed.

In Gainesville, Florida, the soothing, balmy production qualities of “#9 Dream” provide a measure of psychic relief to a roller-rink owner behind on his debts and slowly surrendering to cocaine-induced psychosis. On Saturday, Feb. 22, he orders his DJ at gunpoint to play nothing but “#9 Dream” for the entire night. That night the rink empties early; on Tuesday it is closed; the following Monday, it is under new management.

In Brooklyn, a young man with his long hair suppressed by a hairnet takes a breather from kneading dough, which he does eight hours a day on the counter underneath the radio. Three years previously, he’d been a committed Marxist and revolutionary with a fondness for John & Yoko’s sloganeering “Some Time In New York City” album. Today, he is working in a bakery and considering going back for his master’s, while his onetime hero has returned to recording escapist pop for the masses. He shakes his head and thinks, not for the first time, that nobody told him there’d be days like these.

In Wichita Falls, Texas, a nine-year-old boy receives a copy of the single as a birthday present from his slightly dotty aunt, who has no idea what to give him and decides that a song with the number nine in it must be right for the occasion. Something about it lights a fire within him for pop music; he listens to the record each day until his mother is sick of it, then turns on his little transistor radio in hopes of hearing it again. In 2012, when the boy is lead guitarist in one of America’s most popular rock bands, the first thing he plays when he plugs in for soundcheck every afternoon is the melody of “#9 Dream.” He has never explained this to his bandmates. But — with pop music in their own DNA — they understand anyway.