45 Break: The Other 20

Ed Note: I told my doctor that I feel much better, so I’m slowing down on my writing. He told me that I’m worse than when I walked into his office the first time and that I need to write more, so….

I remember going to a Record World in the 80s and picking up a brochure from radio station, WHTZ, known more popularly as Z-100. They put a weekly countdown of their ‘hot 100’ songs. I read it and after 10 seconds thought, ‘I haven’t heard at least 80 of these songs on this station’. Yes, Top 40 radio stations were perfecting a playlist system that had in place since the 50s, maybe even further than that. They would play the Top 10 songs ad nauseam and sprinkle in tunes from 11-20 with a few recent hits from the last year tossed in as ‘classics’. So why is it called Top 40 radio?

My thinking is that depending on which market you were in, New York or Sioux City, your station’s Top 20 may be pulled from different upcoming songs. I would say this probably lasted into the early 90s, or until every radio station was gobbled up by Clear Channel. And because the Billboard Top 40 was also based on sales (and payola) there were tracks that didn’t get much airplay, but climbed the charts due to the strength of how many 45s they moved. The average of those factors boiled down to a Top 40 chart, of which almost no station played all of those 40 songs in a given week. If you can prove me wrong, please do.

So I would like to focus on some of the tunes that made that coveted Top 40 chart, had their name and obscure story told my Casey Kasem on his weekly show and then disappeared from any regular airplay or popularity. I’ll feature 3 small bits on those that hit #21-#40. Consider them sliders and my other posts, Whoppers. You’ll get full nonetheless.

45 Break: Be B-Side Me

Be my A-side baby. Be B-side me. – Pete Wingfield

That’s from his 1975 Top 20 hit, Eighteen With A Bullet. The play on words and it’s meaning may be lost on folks more common with Mp3s. But Pete’s punny tune juxtaposing his relationship with 45 jargon still feels poignant to me because of a forgotten time in a music collector’s life. The 45, but more importantly, the role of the B-side.

Until albums became more of a bands artistic statement (Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds), a band had one way to break through: have a great single. Write a good song, record it and get it on the radio and jukeboxes. Of course there’s 2 sides to a 45, so you needed to have something to record for the flipside as well. What a bonus for record buyers! Some bands took it forgranted and used it as a trash bin to get mediocre songs released. But most artists used it as another spot for a great song or a rare demo or a fun cover. Hey DJ, you choose. Strawberry Fields Forever, Day Tripper, Something & Eleanor Rigby were all released as Beatles B-sides. In My Room (Beach Boys), Let’s Spend The Night Together (Rolling Stones) and Candy Man (Roy Orbison), bridesmaid all, considered good enough to be recorded but not good enough to push as singles at the time.

The 70s are perfectly bookended by two singles that were originally B-sides which ended up going to #1: Steam’s Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye & Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive. Steam was named by producer Paul Leka, who gathered a bunch of studio musicians to record a couple of his pal Gary DeCarlo’s tunes, especially one he though would be a sure-fire smash, It’s The Magic In You Girl. Ever heard of it? Probably not. But they needed a B-side. So they threw together a song that Paul wrote on the piano. It was barely finished and didn’t have any words for the chorus, hence the na-na-na parts. He spliced the drums together from different recordings and knocked it all out in one recording session. The A-side bombed but curious DJs flipped it over, started playing the B-side and the next thing you know, the song hits #1 for 2 weeks in December of 1969. I mean, what would a sporting event be without Na-na-na hey-hey gooooodbye? The power and presence of the B-side!

And then there’s Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, relegated to second fiddle to a cover of an obscure Righteous Brothers song, Substitute. No one thought the song had any hit potential, so they didn’t spend much time recording or producing it. Which is probably why it sounds so clean and why it became a hit. It spent 3 weeks at #1, won a Grammy, is a disco classic and became an anthem for the gay & feminist movements. Also a standard play in my household. Not bad for an afterthought.

You see no one can predict what will be a hit. It takes luck & timing on top of talent and a good song as well as good promotion, airplay and all sorts of mitigating factors. Nowadays you have one shot with a shot. But with the 45, you had 2 chances per shot. It could break or boost your career as a recording artist (Black Water by the Doobie Brothers, original B-side to Another Park, Another Sunday) if the ‘can’t miss’ single actually missed. And when that artist and producer relaxed about the non-stress of the second side, some amazing results could be recorded.

I strongly suggest going to a record or thrift store this weekend or digging through your collections, buying/playing some 45s of your favorite songs and then play the B-sides. I’ll do the same.

By the way Louie Louie by the Kingsmen – an absolute classic and an original B-side. Now tell me that recording wouldn’t be different had they thought it would be a hit.

45 Break: I Hate the 70s

Since this in my 100th post. I thought I would give everyone a little history on why I created this blog….

During this past winter, when my daughter was just a few months old, I would hold her in my arms and rock her to sleep to music. I would stand in a darkened living room with TV on the 70s radio channel, softly singing song after song. As I each song came on, I imagined the day that my girl would ask me to tell her about the music that I grew up with. My immediate fear was, what if I couldn’t? What if I lost my memory? What if I lost my words? What if I lost my passion for the music?

I searched online to see if there was a blog that talked about 70s pop and couldn’t find one, so I started one of my own. In doing so, I’ve actually been connected to others who reinterpret 70s music with their own unique outlook, which challenges and inspires me to do the same. It wasn’t always this easy to speak freely about the 70s. In fact, the 1980s tried their best to make sure that decade never existed. You would be laughed in 1987 to say that you liked, listened to or owned 70s 45s. Everyone decided to relive the Summer of Love, in a safe way, by that point, had soon-to-be-worthless cassette singles and was flaunting their growing CD collection. The 70s were considered a joke, a mistake, a momentary lack of taste. The British Invasion was awesome, Glam rock not so much. The 80s locked those memories away like the large metal doors at the beginning of Get Smart. In discovering myself and who I was, I had to find a way to unlock them.

Enter Rhino Records, which was picking up steam as the #1 reissue label. In 1990, they released a series of CDs which completely changed my life, Super Hits of the 70s. They released 15 volumes that year, from late 1969 to early 1976. I would listen to Midnight At The Oasis and follow it up with Beach Baby without any shame or excuses for my questionable taste in music. It opened up a flood of childhood memories, as well as a confidence that I could like whatever music I wanted. I felt like was reclaiming a part of my life that my brain had kept hidden away in a locked room. It wasn’t mere nostalgia. It wasn’t a mere snort & giggle at Convoy or Dead Skunk, and then I moved on. The only thing that I can compare it with is someone who has a twin, separated at birth, who reconnects with that person later in life. For me 70s music was the twin I rediscovered who finally completed me.

As I rocked my little girl night after cold dark night, I felt compelled to share that part of me with her and not wait until I got older. In doing so I reconnected with my ‘twin’ all over again, finding out new things, seeing him from different angles, learning about who I am, and recapturing those magical days of discovery in the Fall of 1990.

I love the 70s.

45 Break: Misheard Lyrics

Many people have talked about this phenomenon. Some people have written unfunny books about the subject. And there’s a website dedicated to the subject, which seems more like a platform for hack comics. I have gotten very upset throughout the years when I have realizes that I have been singing the wrong lyrics to a song.

Nowadays we have mp3s and digital radio, high-end speakers, music lyric websites. Back then all you was a wavering AM frequency and our ears. Everything now is recorded with such clarity, so much so that you realize that no one is saying anything interesting.

So was it the cheap plastic speakers in our Tradeline van that had me think that ELO was ‘spoiling the sherbet‘ in Living Thing? Was it my active imagination that made me think that Steely Dan told Peg, it’s her favorite fuckin movie? They’re not funny, I know. But I bring it up because in future posts I will make mention of those times that I gleefully & confidently sang along to words that no one wrote and no one was singing.

And the internet is not helping. Here is one site’s version of the lyrics to Drivers Seat. And here’s the official version from Sniff N The Tears. Either way I’m crushed. I swore he was ‘drivin’ not jivin on a Saturday night. Damn it he has to be drivin! He’s not sitting in the Jivin Seat!

BTW: I only realized a few years back when I looked at a lyric sheet that in the song, Go Home by Stevie Wonder, that it wasn’t ‘she only wanted two peoples to meet‘, it was ‘she only wanted to be close to me‘. The way Stevie writes lyrics sometimes, it made sense to me