Friday, June 16, 2006

Random Rewind: 1969

You are probably getting good and truly sick of reading about the revival of my radio career, but here's another damn post that has something to do with it, although this one isn't really my fault.

The Airheads Radio Survey Archive's latest acquisition is one from WISM in Madison, dated June 14, 1969. WISM was once the flagship of the company I'm working for, although the station itself no longer exists. It changed call letters and went all-talk sometime around 1990 and moved from 1480 to 1670 when the AM band expanded; the company put an all-Spanish station on 1480 a few years ago. But there's still some old WISM memorabilia in the hallways of the station building, and WISM's most famous jock is still on the air, hosting a lunchtime slot at my station. Anybody who grew up in southern Wisconsin during the 1970s and 80s is familiar with Jonathan W. Little, who held down afternoons at WISM and Z104 for years, and whose voice was the sound of rock and roll on the radio in this town. He's prominently featured on the 1969 WISM survey, which lists five records as "Jon Little premiers" and 21 (!) hitbound records in addition to the weekly list of 30 charted hits. Here's a nice double-handful from the list.

1. "Bad Moon Rising"-"Lodi"/Creedence Clearwater Revival. (previous week: 4) In 1969, the golden age of the double-sided hit was just arriving. It would remain a fairly common phenomenon through 1971--two hits for the price of one. Great value for singles buyers--especially in this case, with two near-perfect CCR tunes--bad luck for record companies who missed the chance to double their money.

4. "In the Ghetto"/Elvis Presley. (previous week: 1) There's no doubt that the famous 1968 comeback TV special energized Elvis, who returned to the studio not long afterward to record "In the Ghetto," "Kentucky Rain," and "Suspicious Minds." You've got to go back before he went in the Army to find a stretch in which he recorded records as good as these.

5. "Morning Girl"/Neon Philharmonic. (previous week: 7) Standard-issue pop psychedelia, 1969-style, although not representative of the album from whence it came. The Moth Confesses is described thusly by's Richie Unterberger:
. . . something like Jimmy Webb on acid. For all of its ambitious orchestral arrangements and operatic lyrical reach, it has dated in the most embarrassing and silly of fashions, sounding like the aural equivalent of the middle-class accountant who decides to take acid with his kids in a misguided attempt to get with it.
Ouch, babe.

7. "More Today Than Yesterday"/Spiral Starecase. (previous week: 2) When Rhino Records put together its epic Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day series in the late 80s, this was the first song on Volume 1. It's got that glossy early-70s feel, and just the right amount of one-hit-wonder obscurity to set the tone for the series, despite arriving a few months before the 1970s did.

12. "Love, Love, Love, Love, Love"/Wool. (previous week: 15) Like many radio stations back in the day, WISM set its own playlist and took some chances on local bands and obscure tunes. Their chart for this week 37 years ago contains several records that have disappeared into oblivion, although none is more obscure than this one. I can find practically nothing about it on the Internet--so if you know anything about it, get in touch. (Maybe I should stake out the studio and see if Jonathan Little remembers it.)

13. "Oh Happy Day"/Edwin Hawkins Singers. (previous week: 5) One of the odder Top 40 hits, ever. It's largely a straight gospel recording, but Hawkins' vocal gives it soul in the secular sense. A DJ in San Francisco discovered it--sources vary on whether it was an underground FM station or a mass-appeal AM station--and as the wild 1960s careened to a close, it touched something in the record-buying public sufficient to make it a Top 10 hit nationally.

17. "Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet (A Time for Us)"/Henry Mancini. (previous week: 27) In the spring of 1969, I was finishing up the third grade. The school newspaper, edited by older kids, went around asking random students what their favorite song was. I told them that mine was "Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet." There may be a thin line between being precocious and being a geek, but it's easy to see which side I was on.

26. "Bet Your Sweet Bippy"/The Wrest. (previous week: 29) Here's another obscurity, and another record based on a catch-phrase from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. The Wrest was a Milwaukee band, and this record got a bit of airplay in both Madison and Milwaukee.

Hitbound: "In the Year 2525"/Zager and Evans. They were the only act in history to hit Number One with their first record in both the US and UK and then never to chart again. In spite of that, Zager and Evans squarely nailed what became the spirit of 1969, even though we may not have been able to articulate it back then. The song captures a combination of dread and optimism, leavened with two kinds of hippie spirituality--the religious kind ("in the year 7510/if God's a comin', he ought to make it by then") and the eternal cycle of life (the suggestion that, after 10,000 years of existence, perhaps our destiny will be to start over again.)

Hitbound: "Baby I Love You"/Andy Kim. Kim would be considered one of the gods of bubblegum even if he hadn't collaborated with Jeff Barry to create the Archies--"Baby I Love You" is a junior-high sugar rush that nearly defines the gum genre, as does his cover of "Be My Baby." (And there's "Rock Me Gently," too.)


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