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The wrecking ball.

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A story about an April Fools’ joke might seem a couple days late and a couple dollars short at this point in time.

But this story isn’t so much about April Fools’ as it is about gullibility and impermanence, both of which are eternal.

So come back with me (he said, grabbing your sleeve, rendering escape impossible) to an April morning many years ago.

It is Monday, April 1, 1985. I am in the sixth grade, not quite twelve years old. And I am listening to Dr. John Potter, the morning DJ on WMJQ 92.5 — Rochester’s less popular hits station — as he makes his listeners an unusual offer.

The offer involves Holleder Memorial Stadium, a 20,000-seat brickpile in the city proper that has hosted high school football, pro soccer, and even a few Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills exhibition games.

The stadium is not even 40 years old in the spring of ’85 but has been edging toward irrelevance for a while. High school football doesn’t draw 20,000 people any more. The NFL no longer comes to town. And two professional soccer teams, both calling Holleder home, have folded in the preceding five years.

The city fathers have even taken to allowing rock concerts there, a common last step for sports facilities gone to seed. (Holleder is one of four venues in Rochester to host a Grateful Dead concert, and the only one of the four I will never set foot in.)

But even the stadium’s availability to longhaired hordes is not enough to keep it alive; the neighbors are touchy, and there are other, more attractive concert venues in the city and region. In the spring of 1985, the announcement comes: Holleder Stadium is to be torn down.

And so here’s Dr. John Potter on April Fools’ Day 1985, loud-hailing a freebie offer to anyone who will listen: To a few lucky callers, he’s giving away tickets to see the Wrecking Ball at Holleder Stadium on April 18 (or whatever the demolition date was; it matters not.)

He plays it straight, as though the Wrecking Ball were a band rather than an implement of industrial deconstruction. He throws in a few embellishments here and there, of the sort you’d imagine — along the lines of, “Yeah, I hear this show is really gonna tear the place down.”

And sure enough, the calls come on air, several of them, all unsuspecting: “They some kind of hard-rock band? … Sure, I’d like to go. Thanks, Dr. John!”

And by the time I am required to leave for school, Dr. John Potter has distributed his full stash of tickets — maybe even front-row — to see the Wrecking Ball at Holleder Stadium.

I was credulous (as indeed I still am, too often), and it does not occur to preteen me that the callers could be plants, in on the joke. It is possible that I, not they, were the gullible ones.

On the other hand, I can believe even as a jaded adult that, in a city the size of Rochester, there are people who (a) don’t follow local news that closely and (b) are only too glad to accept tickets from their favorite morning jock, even if they don’t recognize the name of the “band.” (Dr. John Potter, like David Bowie’s mythical DJ, had believers believing him.)

Time moved forward. What happened after that?

Holleder Stadium departed this earth as scheduled a few weeks later. A high-tech park occupies the site now. If you stopped a random sampling of Rochesterians on the street tomorrow, I wonder if one in 10 could tell you where the stadium used to be.

According to the FCC, WMJQ didn’t outlast the stadium by all that long. The station at 92.5 became WLRY in October 1986, then WBEE the following February. The call letters remain WBEE; it’s now a very popular country station.

I have no idea what happened to Dr. John Potter, but the most recent online citation I can find for a radio DJ by that name dates to the early 1990s. If he’s still in the radio business, neither he nor his station seems particularly active in promoting him.

He might have taken a new on-air identity. Or, given the state of the radio business since 1985, it’s also possible that he left the industry, went back to school and got a job doing night-shift tech support. (If he’s reading, he’s welcome to set me straight in the comments.)

The moral of the story, I guess: Years come and go; places come and go; entertainments come and go; people who position themselves as beloved daily companions also come and go; and only the suspicion that one has been hoodwinked lasts.

Good night.

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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.

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.

500 posts, 51 years.

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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 RudyWonder 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.

The heart of summer.

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Still not back to live-blogging American Top 40 countdowns. But, I’ll write about a local chart when I can find one.

And — courtesy the ARSA database of local radio airplay charts — here’s one carved from the heart of the summer of ’78. The week ending July 31, 1978, to be specific, for Allentown’s old hit-radio station, WKAP-AM 1320.

It’s a pretty epic week, as it turns out — some of the defining hits of the year, and some good stories to tell for them what are interested in such things.

Here goes, then:

– At Nos. 1 and 2, the pure products of 1978 go crazy. The theme song from the Movie of the Summer goes head-to-head with the Musical Style of the Year, represented by its principal diva singing one of her most irresistible songs. Truly, this battle must have made Mothra vs. Godzilla look like two Pop Warner teams on a muddy field.

In the end, wily old Frankie Valli would emerge successful, defending the craggy mountaintop that is Number One in Allentown with a terrible swift sword. I do not know who won the battle the following week; it might well have been his temporarily vanquished super-rival.

As you can see, the last week in July was a pretty damn good one for “Grease.” The movie placed three songs in the WKAP Top 10 and a fourth at No. 16. Three of those songs were moving up on the charts that week, and the theme tune would probably have moved up too if there were anywhere to go from Number One.

(Ironically, the week ending July 30 was the only week between mid-June and mid-October when John and Livvie’s high school musical wasn’t Number One at the U.S. box office. “National Lampoon’s Animal House” took the honors that week.)

– At No. 3, we get a whole lot less epic in a hurry.

The Jefferson Starship had struck mellow gold with Marty Balin’s “Miracles” in ’75, then struck silver with Balin’s similarly lovey-dovey “With Your Love” in ’76.

Like Bill Buckner trying to take third on Reggie Jax in Game Five of the ’74 Series, the Starship thought they could go for three with the Balin-sung “Runaway.

Unlike Buckner, the Starship got a hit out of their gamble, landing at No. 12 nationally. “Runaway” is the sort of flaccid, repetitive, hollow song that gives mellow gold a bad name, though.

They would have better off taking a gutsy chance and getting shot down for it, the way Buckner did.

(Both Buckner and the Starship would go on to much greater indignities in the mid-’80s.)

No. 4, meanwhile, is laid-back California the way laid-back California was meant to be done, and good summer-twilight highway music.

– No. 5 brings us an oddity, and a bit of a high-water mark.

Vocal group Boney M, the product of future Milli Vanilli producer Frank Farian, was phenomenally popular in Europe in the late ’70s. On the list of top-selling singles of all time in the U.K., Boney M is the only performer with two songs in the Top 10.

They never approached those heights in the U.S. “Rivers of Babylon,” with a No. 30 peak, was the group’s highest-placing (maybe even only) U.S. Top Forty single. The people of the Lehigh Valley loved it, though, sending it to No. 5 on the WKAP chart against some stiff competition.

This chart is Boney M’s highest placing on any American chart in the ARSA database.

So, whatever magic the people in England and Germany perceived was apparently audible only in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton on this side of the pond … and never more so than it was in the last week of July, 1978.

– No. 10, with its nostalgic, even elegiac quality (“Now that we’ve come to the end of our rainbow”), would have made an interesting back-to-back play with No. 6 or No. 16, with their headlong teenagers-madly-in-love vibe.

– At Nos. 12 through 14, we get a solid three-fer blast of meat-and-potatoes Rock from Springsteen, Seger and the Stones.

By comparison, the Stones were No. 3 on the national Top 40 that same week; Seger was No. 7; and Springsteen’s “Prove It All Night” was completely absent.

– You can’t exactly compare Casey Kasem’s national countdown with WKAP’s chart because the Allentown chart has only 25 records, not 40.

Still, a bunch of the songs on the national Top 40 this week were totally absent from WKAP’s chart.

Nationwide hits not making the grade in the Lehigh Valley included Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” (No. 2 nationally); Heatwave’s “The Groove Line” (No. 9); Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” (No. 14); ABBA’s “Take A Chance On Me” (No. 17); Steely Dan’s “FM” (No. 22); Jackson Browne’s “The Load-Out/Stay” (No. 23); Steve Martin’s “King Tut” (No. 24); Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends” (No. 30) and “Macho Man” by the Village People (No. 40).

Some pretty good records in that pile; I hope at least some of them were on the air here.

– Besides “Prove It All Night,” tunes on the WKAP chart that were not on the national Forty included Dave Mason’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow;” Earth Wind & Fire’s “Got To Get You Into My Life” and Exile’s “Kiss You All Over.”

– Down on the nether end of the WKAP chart, we have what I consider to be two of the late ’70s’ classier one-hit wonders at No. 22 and No. 25.

No. 22 starts with a dreadful cardboardy-sounding drum machine and unexpectedly blossoms into a lovely, melodic mellow-gold excursion with a ten-foot-tall chorus.

No. 25 has rather stronger raw materials to work with — think Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham — but doesn’t waste them.

– The deejays bringing us all these tunes on WKAP included the immortal Smokin’ Doug on the 6 p.m.-to-midnight shift.

For some reason that strikes me as just about the goofiest name I’ve ever heard a DJ adopt. To me, it just doesn’t ring.

The Interwebs tell me that Smokin’ Doug (Hanley was his last name, at least on-air) later ended up at WEEX across the Valley in Easton. No idea where he went after that.

Perhaps he is selling ads or siding or something, and still remembering how nice “Fool If You Think It’s Over” sounded coming out of the studio monitors.

Static.

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My old red iPod is on the skids again. So tonight I brought a different companion out on my walk:

This old square radio, powered by an old square battery, belonged to my maternal grandfather, once upon a time. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably 35 years old or so — recent enough to accommodate both AM and FM operation.

It doesn’t get much use, but I keep it around for some undefined sense of utility, like if the lights ever go out for a truly extended period of time.

Not sure what I expected of it. In my heart of hearts, maybe I hoped I would turn it on and the New York suburbs of 1980 would come out, with the Scooter calling a Yankees spring training game … or WABC playing “Rock With You” … or at least some good greasy oldies, like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers or summat.

Of course I didn’t do nearly so well. I kept it stuck on the AM band the whole time, and could come up with nothing better than:

– bland going-nowhere ESPN Radio Final Four blather

– inoffensive but uninteresting Spanish-language music

– a random station from Pittsburgh – just about all I could understand were the words “McKees Rocks

– some plummy-voiced pismire defending Indiana’s move toward state-approved homophobia (“…when people say you’re being intolerant, they’re really being intolerant of you, aren’t they?” No, and f–k you.)

– the Sixers Radio Network … and when the Sixers Radio Network is the highlight of your walk, well, that’s pretty sad

As I walked, I realized my house is just about the highest point on my course; it’s literally all downhill from there. That probably didn’t help the reception. Neither did the fact that the antenna is firmly wedged inside its casing.

(Both can be remedied to some degree: I can walk a different course, and I can find something skinny to pry up the antenna.)

I did enjoy a couple of highlights in the relative higher ground of my subdivision.

For a minute or two I caught New York City sports-talk station WFAN, which is something my grandfather might have listened to for the latest Yanks and Giants news, had it been around in his time. (The newsbreak I caught was sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union. Yay out-of-town color!)

On my way out I briefly pulled in a French-language talk station somewhere between 850 and 900; and on my way back I caught CHLM 900-AM out of Hamilton, Ontario. Somebody was gabbing, once again, but it was Canadian gab, so that at least was interesting for two minutes.

I left the radio on CHLM. Early results might be disappointing, but I’m not done with this yet.

“Music we like.”

Finding an airplay chart from a station you knew, before you knew it, is like seeing pictures of your high school before they added the big south wing …

or pictures of your parents before they had kids …

or pictures of your favorite sports hero in the minor-league uniform of his younger days.

You feel some degree of connection. But at the same time, everything seems so alien.

And so it is for me tonight, as I contemplate the April 22, 1974, airplay chart for WCMF 96.5, from my hometown of Rochester, New York.

Before you check it out, a little history is in order:

‘CMF was my preferred radio station throughout my high school years in the late ’80s and early ’90s, dishing out a predictable, reliable diet of arena rock — Zep, Bad Company, Steve Miller, Queen and like that.

(Its slogan for a time was “Outlaw Radio.” As risible as that seems today, nobody laughed in 1990 when ‘CMF would run an ad proclaiming itself Outlaw Radio, then play REO Speedwagon or something equally freeze-dried.)

I couldn’t take much of that nowadays, but Rochesterians disagree. WCMF is still on the air, with an only marginally updated classic-rock menu. According to its website, the three most recently played songs as I type this are “I’m Your Captain,” “Don’t Stop Believin'” and BadCo’s “Shooting Star.”

So, WCMF might end up playing the old warhorses until the sun swallows the earth.

It wasn’t always like that, though.

Looking at the 1974 chart — and if you haven’t already done so, g’wan ahead now — I’m tickled to see that ‘CMF had an alternative/progressive jawn going in its earlier days.

(Dig the gnarled old tree bending away from the sun, and the slogans “Unlike Any Other Radio Station” and “Music We Like.” No platinum corporate rock for this ‘CMF. Note also that the chart listed top albums, but not top songs or singles. The LP was what mattered in those days.)

In fact, the 1974 edition of ‘CMF was so far off the wall, I had no idea who five of the top six artists even were.

I thought I vaguely recognized one of the names, but beyond that, research was required:

Howdy Moon was a folk-rock trio featuring singer-songwriter Valerie Carter. Their only album featured a version of Carter’s “Cook With Honey,” which I once wrote a weird, schizophrenic blog post about in its Judy Collins version.

Harriet Schock was (still is) a singer, songwriter and actress who cut three major-label albums in the mid-1970s before concentrating on writing for others. “Ain’t No Way To Treat A Lady,” from Schock’s LP Hollywood Town, was later a hit for Helen Reddy.

Sharks were a British rock band featuring ex-Free bass player Andy Fraser and well-traveled session guitarist Chris Spedding. As far as I know, they didn’t write any material that was successfully covered by soft-rock chanteuses.

Passport I thought I recognized … but I was wrong. Wiki describes them as a German jazz-rock ensemble somewhat akin to Weather Report, and I note the presence of former Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon among their long list of former members. Apparently they’re still around.

Snafu was a British heavy-R&B-funk band, one of those journeyman ’70s ensembles whose members would either go on to bigger things (guitarist Micky Moody and keyboardist Pete Solley joined Whitesnake) or were coming down from bigger things (guitarist Clem Clempson had played in Humble Pie).

Albums by Mouzon, Deodato, Charles Mingus and the Modern Jazz Quartet showed a solid bent toward jazz — and not all freaked-out fusion, either, as the MJQ stayed close to its cool-bop roots throughout its career.

(Tom Hampson, who hosted a Friday night jazz show on ‘CMF in ’74, is still playing jazz on Rochester’s NPR AM station, WXXI 1370.)

For the live-music freaks in the crowd, ‘CMF offered the King Bisquit (cq) Flour Hour and live sets by local and regional bands with names like Big Screaming McGrew and Ko Ko Morgan.

For those who still wanted to smoke hash and giggle a lot, the station picked up the National Lampoon Radio Hour and the Firesign Theatre’s “Dear Friends.”

And, as a stoney old-time touch on Sunday nights, there were Sherlock Holmes dramas.

(The WCMF of my era programmed a long-running program of local music on late Sunday nights, featuring a locally beloved DJ named Unkle Roger. I didn’t listen to it, but I wish I had, as it was probably the most interesting thing on the station.)

I’m not sure when ‘CMF gave up the hippie-freeform ghost and went corporate.

As late as July 1979, they were willing to let progressive-rock icon Robert Fripp do some live improvising on their airwaves — a sign they hadn’t totally abandoned their wild roots. The tree was still growing away from the sun, at least a little bit.

I would have liked to have heard that version of WCMF. I bet it was pretty wild, edgy even, by the prevailing standards of the upstate Seventies.

Outlaw radio, you might even say.