Friday, December 15, 2006

Top 5: Steppin' Up in Class

Fooling around at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive this morning, I found an interesting artifact--a survey from WAWA in Milwaukee dated December 13, 1965. A little research reveals that WAWA was a daytime-only station at 1590 AM, licensed to suburban West Allis (although I would have guessed, based on the call letters, that it was licensed to Wauwatosa, hometown of The Mrs.). WAWA served Milwaukee's African American community, playing R&B and gospel and hosting local talk. For a time, it was owned by former Green Bay Packer Willie Davis' All-Pro Broadcasting, but All-Pro took it off the air when it acquired WMCS in the late 80s.

It's clear that WAWA was a smokin' great radio station musically. Here are five notable records from their chart:

1. "I Got You (I Feel Good)"/James Brown. (peak) This record has been so abused and overexposed in the last 41 years that it takes some effort to hear it now as people heard it then--an explosion of R&B energy that blasts your ass out of your chair and onto the dancefloor. It also inspired one of critic Dave Marsh's all-time great lines: "James sings the song as if God had called him to earth for the primary purpose of personifying sexual ecstasy."

2. "Ain't That Peculiar"/Marvin Gaye. (peak)
In which the Motown house band, the Funk Brothers, does what it does, and brings Marvin along for the ride.

6. "Steppin' Up in Class"/Jimmy McCracklin. (debut)
11. "Black Night"/Lowell Fulson. (falling)
The WAWA list covers a wide range of styles, as Top 40 often did in the 1960s, but certainly it was important for a station serving the entire African-American community to account for a wide range of taste. McCracklin and Fulson both had long and illustrious careers in R&B and often tended toward the "B" part of R&B. McCracklin is best known for "The Walk" from 1958; Fulson for 1954's "Reconsider Baby," famously covered by Elvis Presley. "Reconsider Baby" was named one of the 500 songs that shaped rock by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

15. "Hang on Sloopy"/Ramsey Lewis Trio. (debut) And they played some jazz, too, although this version of the very white original by the McCoys was a significant crossover hit around the country, reaching Number 11 in Billboard.

The lower reaches of this chart are especially interesting. "New Releases to Watch" features the Beatles' "We Can Work it Out," "A Must to Avoid" by Herman's Hermits, and Beatles soundalike "Lies" by the Knickerbockers. These records are so different from the rest of the stuff in WAWA's Top 20 that it's hard to imagine they ever got more than a brief look. And take note of the "spirituals" section at the very bottom of the chart.

During its lifetime, WAWA was never as popular in Milwaukee's African-American community as WNOV--but it featured two of Milwaukee's most well-known personalities: O.C. White and Dr. Bop, who's still fondly remembered by a lot of Milwaukee radio fans today, black and white. White and the Doctor are both sufficiently legendary to have been immortalized in a mural painted on the outside of the WMCS building a couple of years ago.

(Buy Lowell Fulson and other seriously great old school R&B here.)

Holiday Note: We have mentioned here a couple of times the Billy Idol Christmas album. Homercat has posted a couple of tracks from it at Good Rockin' Tonight; so has Rock Over Graceland. In general, the downtempo stuff is better than the rockers, which was a bit of a shock, although the downtempo cuts are occasionally spoiled when Idol ad-libs little spoken bits between verses. If you're only going to download one song, get "Silent Night." Idol takes all of the songs more seriously than I thought he might. He does "Silent Night" absolutely straight--and most shocking of all, it absolutely works.


At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WAWA also had an FM station at 102.1. It played essentially the same music as the AM.


At 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot to add it is now WLUM-FM.


At 10:19 AM, Blogger The Stepfather of Soul said...

What I love about the R&B airchecks I have is the breadth of what got played, and how, as you excellently discussed about the James Brown track, so many tunes that are taken for granted now were so awesome as new recordings. Having been born too late to experience that, the aircheck tapes are a treasure. It's just so unfortunate that the aircheck collecting world is chock-full of Top 40 material, but there is precious little in terms of surviving R&B radio airchecks.


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