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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.

It’s all da-da-da-down.

I’ve ranted before about the profusion of blogs and music sites that analyze and re-analyze the recordings of the past, generally in much more intelligent fashion than I can muster.

(One such site — and they’re usually very good — is The Quietus. They’ve done a whole raft of 40th-anniversary retrospective essays this year, including especially good ones about John Cale’s Fear and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. It’s possible that 1974 looks infinitely more interesting in their hands than it ever did when it was happening.)

It occurs to me that we are currently passing a 40th musical anniversary that — as far as I’ve seen — no one has written much about.

I don’t know much about it, certainly not enough to be an authority. But, since unexplored musical blog-space seems rarer than rocking-horse shit nowadays, I’m gonna jump in and claim it for my own anyway:

This late autumn and early winter marks 40 years since the peak of Ringo Starr’s solo career.

Our lad’s Goodnight Vienna LP, released in mid-November 1974, would mark the end of his brief run as a superstar-level solo performer.

The LP reached Number 8 on the U.S. charts and spawned three Top 40 singles (“Only You (And You Alone),” “Goodnight Vienna” and the double-sided “No No Song”/”Snookeroo.”)

Local airplay charts from around this time 40 years ago show Goodnight Vienna holding comfortable Top 10 positions at stations in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Hartford, while the record’s lead single was at mid-chart levels and on the way up at stations across the country.

In the U.K., Goodnight Vienna would be Ringo’s last Top 40 album for almost a quarter-century — by which time he was no longer an active hitmaker, but more of a nostalgia artist, really.

After Goodnight Vienna, Ringo released the greatest-hits comp Blast From Your Past in time for the Christmas market in ’75.

His next new studio album, September 1976’s Ringo’s Rotogravure, peaked at No. 28 and fell off the U.S. charts quickly. And 1977’s disastrous Ringo the 4th pretty much sounded the death knell for Ringo Starr as a solo headliner, at least on record.

As I’ve said before, the brief flowering of Ringo’s solo career has always been something of a mystery to me.

The guy genuinely could not sing … and, while he was/is an underrated drummer, underrated drumming doesn’t sell singles and albums to the general populace. (Worth mentioning: Studio ace Jim Keltner plays at least some of the drums on the Goodnight Vienna album.)

For that matter, the songs he was singing weren’t always that great either.

His oldies covers are pleasant enough, but they’re not so tremendous as to make us forget the originals. “You’re Sixteen,” with its Paul McCartney kazoo solo, still seems to me like it was crafted as part of some race-to-the-bottom competition to produce the worst possible Number One single.

(1974 was just the year for such a competition, too. Compared to fellow Number One hits “Seasons In The Sun,” “The Streak,” “Billy Don’t Be A Hero,” “I Can Help” and “Havin’ My Baby,” Ringo’s nostalgia trip seems downright attractive.)

And songs like “Goodnight Vienna” — which sounds exactly like the sort of thing a dissolute rocker would write for his buddy after too many brandy Alexanders — lack the spark or imagination that makes classic pop:

And yet, in his few years as a true solo star, Ringo racked up enough hits to legitimately fill a best-of album, with two Number One hits and multiple other visits to the Top Ten.

Ninety-nine percent of the people who have ever picked up a guitar (or a set of drumsticks) wish they had a career even half as successful as Ringo Starr’s solo career.

Did Ringo owe his success to pure nostalgic sentiment? Was the pop world so thoroughly out of gas in ’73-’75 that anything Beatles-related was greeted with rapturous cheers?

(Having heard the Number Ones mentioned above, and having listened to a whole bunch of Casey Kasem American Top 40 countdowns from that period, I find this explanation entirely plausible.)

Or, did he owe his success to the Seventies buying public’s fascination with celebrity collaborations?

Ringo’s mid-’70s solo albums featured guest shots by all three of his former Beatles colleagues, as well as the likes of Robbie Robertson, Elton John, Billy Preston, Marc Bolan and Harry Nilsson. That’s as close as the world ever got to a Beatles reunion, plus lots of other celebrity firepower besides.

Were people buying just to see what all those star(r)s would stir up? (Surely millions of people weren’t plunking down their hard-earned dollars to spend 40 minutes in the company of just Ringo.)

Also, now that time has shown that lots of celebs together don’t necessarily make good music, is anyone buying these albums nowadays?

Sure, I know nobody’s buying music any more. But I wonder if there are 60-year-olds replacing their worn-out vinyl copies of Goodnight Vienna with digital versions; whether there are 15-year-olds or 20-year-olds discovering these albums for the first time; or whether they are largely forgotten 40 years later. Do they stand anything resembling a test of time?

Having extensively picked apart his shortcomings, I have to say I kinda like the idea of Ringo as a solo star. He has always seemed like the most grounded and approachable of the Beatles, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s welcome to every gold and platinum record on his den wall.

I don’t really understand the whole phenomenon; but time has proven repeatedly that my comprehension is not necessary for pop success.

It’s all da-da-da-down to … well, I don’t know what, exactly. But it happened, and proof exists.

Would you lie down, do nothin’, give in or go berserk?

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Research challenge for someone with more time, smarts and resources than me:

Chart the performance of Wings’ “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” in regions of America with significant Irish-American populations, as compared to those without.

It was this week in 1972 that Paul McCartney’s quickly recorded response to the Bloody Sunday shootings reached its U.S. chart peak, at Number 21.

Not a great placement for a solo Beatle, perhaps, but a pretty good showing for a topical protest song not directly involving American affairs.

By comparison, Bob Dylan’s “George Jackson” topped out at only Number 33 the year before, while “The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley” reached Number 37. (One imagines William Calley had more supporters in early-’70s America than the IRA did.)

McCartney’s song, to no one’s great surprise, was banned by the BBC.

Here in the States, squeamish programming directors had the option of playing the single’s B-side, an instrumental version of the song.

The invaluable ARSA database of local radio-play charts used to have charts saying the instrumental version of “Give Ireland Back” was getting regular play at several stations. As of March 2016 those surveys are no longer there; perhaps they were mistaken.

Unfortunately, the ARSA database isn’t complete. It doesn’t have every local radio chart, just the ones people have collected and scanned in. So I can’t rely on it to compare the single’s performance in South Boston to its performance in, say, El Paso.

ARSA does give us a couple of interesting figments regarding the song’s regional chart arcs, though:

– WPOP and WDRC, rival stations in Hartford, Conn., had the song in their hitbound rotations as soon as it was released. Listeners kept it in both stations’ Top 40 for almost two months, with a peak at Number 8 on WDRC and Number 9 on WPOP.

– Seven surveys from heavily Irish Boston exist in the ARSA database, all from station WMEX. WMEX added the single to its hitbound rotation early on, but surviving surveys have it placing no higher than No. 13.

– The song reached the Top Ten at stations in in Akron; Albany, N.Y.; Cleveland; Hartford; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Willimantic, Conn.; Boise, Idaho; and Melbourne, Australia.

– The only known instance of “Give Ireland Back” hitting Number One in a local chart was in Wilmington, Del., of all places, where WAMS listed the song at the top for at least two weeks.

– As late as May 3, KDON in Salinas, Calif., was moving the song into its Top Ten. (I always find it interesting to read about late-breaking outliers. Were there stations that waited to make sure the song didn’t cause riots before adding it to their playlists?)

– The equally wonderful musicradio77.com, which collects all things related to New York City’s old WABC, indicates the song was absent from the station’s hit charts throughout that spring.

The charts do not indicate whether the song was actively banned by WABC — as other songs that year were — or whether it simply didn’t get significant airplay there.

All these years later, “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” remains a rare example of McCartney commenting on current events.

And while its politics may be a little muddled (only Macca would write a pro-Irish protest song with the words “Great Britain, you are tremendous”), the song is still an effective, biting counterweight to some of the catchy-but-vacant pap McCartney would later put out.

 

From the Valley: Flashback, Part 2.

A couple days ago, I wrote about the playlist for WAEB-AM, formerly the Lehigh Valley’s favorite Top 40 station, this week in 1968.

The ARSA database also happens to have WAEB’s playlist of top records for this week in 1970. It seemed like an interesting comparison to see how a region’s tastes, and the offerings of its hit-radio stations, could change in two short years.

Let’s have a look, then:

– Bubblegum and light pop still makes up the bulk of WAEB’s playlist, but it’s a heavier station that it had been in 1968. Note Free, the Who, Joe Cocker and Canned Heat on the Top 20, with Chicago, Eric Clapton and Steppenwolf bubbling under.

– As in 1968, there’s a clutch of soul records on the bottom half of the surveywhich represents an improvement, I suppose, since there are only 20 songs on the list this time around instead of 40. I would have liked to hear “I Think I Love You” and “Super Bad (Parts 1 & 2)” back to back.

– The album chart also shows a move toward heaviness, or at least seriousness: The Band, Led Zeppelin, Santana and Joe Cocker are all scoring big in the Valley.

– But the No. 1 album (assuming that the first album listed is also the most popular) is a weird one: The Artie Kornfeld Tree‘s A Time To Remember!

Kornfeld is probably best remembered as one of the guiding lights behind the Woodstock festival. He was also a musician, though the interwebs suggest that this was his only album.

A Time To Remember! shows up on only two local airplay charts in the ARSA database, with the other mention coming roughly a month earlier at a station in Denver.

I can only wonder what accounted for his brief burst of local popularity. Perhaps he played a concert here?

– Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 countdowns had been airing for four months in November 1970. Thanks to this excellent site, we can compare the hottest records in the Lehigh Valley to the hottest records nationwide.

I notice that several of the songs just arriving as “New Power Sounds” on WAEB’s airwaves (Clapton, Chicago, Neil Diamond, Stevie Wonder) are already on the national 40. That suggests that WAEB took a little longer to get on them than other stations.

On the other hand, the Carpenters’ saccharine “We’ve Only Just Begun” was No. 2 nationwide but only No. 9 in the Lehigh Valley. (It was down from No. 8 the week before, suggesting it might already have peaked as a hit in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.)

For the most part, the charts are pretty similar once you get up into the Top 10.

Both charts share the same Number One, the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You,” and the same Number Three, the Jax 5ive’s “I’ll Be There.” And most of the other records don’t differ all that much in chart positions.

In this particular week, anyway, the tastes of the Lehigh Valley were pretty similar to those of the nation as a whole.

– For what it’s worth, I have at least a passing familiarity with every performer on the 1970 WAEB countdown … whereas the 1968 countdown boasts a number of acts I couldn’t tell you Fact One about. (To name a few: Unifics, Singing Ork. Circus, Pop Corn Generation, Rene & Rene, Autry Inman, Magic Lantern, Billy Harner and the Ethics.)

At first I thought that might be a sign of the growing heterogeneousness of Top 40 radio — i.e., that it was harder for a local or regional band to get airplay in 1970 than it had been two years before.

But I think the relative unfamiliarity of the acts of 1968 can be explained by two other reasons:

1) There were something like 50 acts on the ’68 survey, and only 30 two years later, so there was more room in 1968 for regional heroes and one-shot wonders.

2) I’m simply less familiar with ’60s pop than I am with ’70s and ’80s. Maybe there’s no trend at all between the acts on the two surveys; it’s just my ignorance that accounts for the difference.