Friday, April 28, 2006

Top 5: Take Me Home

Since discovering the Airheads Radio Survey Archive this past week, I've spent quite a bit of time fooling around with it. And it occurs to me that the thrill I (and other readers) get from these old surveys is something you'll never understand if you don't understand it already.

To a sports-obsessed kid like me, the competition among records was naturally fascinating. Once I figured out I could get surveys from my local record store, I used to haunt the place waiting for them to come in. Later, when I discovered that some radio stations counted down their weekly surveys, I became an inveterate countdown listener. And, for a stretch of my teenage years, I also created my own surveys--my perception of how the hits should rank for a given week, based on how often I was hearing them, and how much I liked them. The surveys I collected and the ones I made up on my own were lost, either in the smoky fire that damaged our house when I was 14, or simply through the passage of time in the years after that. So that's why finding ARSA was such a thrill.

However, it's not just the chart data that's interesting--you can get that lots of places. It's the look of the various charts, the ads, the photos, the logos, and remembering the way the things felt in your hand on the way home from the record store. Plus, looking at them reminds me how I hoped that someday I'd be one of the ultra-cool DJ who'd get to have his picture on some station's survey. Alas, like much else that I loved about the industry, surveys, too were dying by the time I actually got into radio, although as ARSA indicates, they hung on into the mid 80s.

So anyway--this week's Top 5 comes to us from this week in 1975, and the chart published by Toronto's legendary Top 40 flamethrower, CHUM. Many surveys contained both a singles chart and an album chart. CHUM's did--and since the album chart from this week in 1975 is much more interesting than the singles chart, here's the top of it.

5. John Denver's Greatest Hits/John Denver. In the article about this album at the Super Seventies RockSite, there's a hilarious snippet of Jon Landau's Rolling Stone review of it: "By the time I finished with an album's worth of his sweetness, innocence and good intentions, I craved something violent -- a Kung Fu movie, perhaps." Denver had that effect on lots of people. Key track: "Take Me Home, Country Roads."

4. Cold on the Shoulder/Gordon Lightfoot. Figures a Lightfoot album would be big on a Canadian radio station, right? Key track: "Rainy Day People."

3. Chicago VIII/Chicago.
This is the one with the big cardinal on the cover. An iron-on transfer of the cover logo was tucked inside the album package, ready to decorate a T-shirt. I've still got mine. Key tracks: "Harry Truman," "Old Days."

2. Tommy/Soundtrack. At the height of my personal (and the world's) Elton-mania, I was very excited about Ken Russell's movie, in which Elton was to play the Pinball Wizard. But then I saw it, and I didn't like it at all. My cousin, who saw it with me, helpfully suggested that it would probably be better if you smoked a joint first, although we never tested the theory. Key tracks: "Eyesight to the Blind" (Clapton), "Sally Simpson" (The Who), "Acid Queen" (Tina Turner).

1. Physical Graffiti/Led Zeppelin. It's one of the wonders of the age that the stormtrooper stomp of "Trampled Under Foot" rode the singles chart right alongside Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You" and "Chevy Van" by Sammy Johns. Additional key track: "Kashmir."

Recommended Reading: The list phenomenon (10 best, 20 worst) has pretty much jumped the shark. Even the Weather Channel has a list show now, which was counting down the 10 most humid cities the other night--really. Few entities have done more to push it over the edge than Blender magazine, which has worked with VH1 to turn several lists into TV shows, most famously the one last year that named "We Built This City" by Starship as the worst record of all time. Now Blender is at it again, with a list of the 50 Worst Things to Happen to Music, but this list is actually thought-provoking and funny. And unlike many lists of this type, you'll never guess what's at Number One.


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