I'll Be There
On the last couple of New Year's Eves, we've checked out the yearend charts from some of America's greatest Top 40 radio stations. Last year it was WABC from New York; the year before it was WLS from Chicago. This year, we'll check the charts for CKLW, Windsor/Detroit. During the 60s and 70s, almost every major American city witnessed a major duke-out between competing AM radio giants. In Detroit, they were CKLW and WKNR. These wars inevitably led to great radio, but they were largely over by the late 1970s, as FM usage grew and markets fragmented. That was the case in Detroit by the time my in-laws moved there in 1980. CKLW hung in, however, and it was the station we listened to when we were out there. Its glory days were past by then, and it would switch to a nostalgia format in 1984. But in its day, it was home to some of the most famous jocks in Top 40 history, and to Rosalie Trombley, too. She started as a switchboard operator in the early 60s but became one of the most acclaimed program directors of the era, credited with making a star of local boy Bob Seger, who wrote "Rosalie" about her.
Although there are plenty of tributes to classic radio stations around the Internets, there aren't all that many sets of yearend charts out there. There's certainly nothing as complete as what exists for WABC and WLS. The Classic CKLW Page has a few yearend charts from the 1960s and 1970s--and here we go, with Number One, whatever was the bottom position, and interesting bits from in between, for as many years as are available:
#1: "Hey Jude"/Beatles
#100: "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde"/Georgie Fame
Comment: In addition to the usual Detroit suspects--Bob Seger, Ted Nugent (in his Amboy Dukes days), and the Motown stars--this chart also indicates that the Detroit Emeralds and the Parliaments (later known as Parliament and/or Funkadelic) were big locally. The Emeralds' "Show Time" clocked in at Number 40; the Parliaments, whose "Testify" had been Number Two on the 1967 yearend chart, scored again with "Good Old Music" at Number 87.
CKLW apparently did not publish a Top 100 for 1969. Instead, their yearend chart featured the Top 100 of the 1960s. Three months later, the station published its Top 300 of All Time. (Both are available at the link above.) Number One song on both: "Hey Jude." I wonder, however, why the songs from the 1960s on the all-time chart were in a different order than they were on the 60s chart. Shouldn't they have been the same, but with some 50s hits mixed in? If I had more time and was substantially smarter, I'd think more about it. As it is, let's move on.
#1: "I'll Be There"/Jackson Five
#100: "Jingle Jangle"/Archies
Best segue: "Indiana Wants Me" by R. Dean Taylor at Number 45 into "Gimme Dat Ding" by the Pipkins at Number 44. Top 40/bubblegum geek nirvana.
#1: "Joy to the World"/Three Dog Night
#100: "High Time We Went"/Joe Cocker
Most interesting entry: "Love Is Life" by Earth Wind and Fire at Number 45--their first hit single from their debut album, scoring big in Detroit three years before their first national Top 40 hit, "Mighty Mighty."
#1: "Lean on Me"/Bill Withers
#100: "Keeper of the Castle"/Four Tops
Comment: This chart contains the biggest pile yet of R&B records big in Detroit and not so big elsewhere--such as Joe Simon's "Misty Blue" at Number 19, "Mr. Penguin" by Lunar Funk at Number 25, and records by Donny Hathaway, Denise LaSalle, Holland and Dozier, Valerie Simpson, King Floyd, and the Dramatics that didn't make the national Top 40 at all. Oddly enough, the Detroit Emeralds' biggest-ever national hit, "Baby Let Me Take You," placed only at Number 98, twenty-some slots behind another Emeralds record.
#1: "Bad Bad Leroy Brown"/Jim Croce
#100: "Rockin' Roll Baby"/Stylistics
Top album: Dark Side of the Moon/Pink Floyd
(1973 was the first year CKLW published a top-albums list along with its singles survey.)
Comment: When "Playground in My Mind" by Clint Holmes at Number 16 was followed by "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" by Dawn at Number 15 during the countdown, it represented a good time for the kids listening in their bedrooms at home to go out to the fridge for a snack. Or, hell, even outside for a smoke. Better obesity or lung cancer than dreck overdose.
Digression: Although the Stylistics were best known for Thom Bell's gorgeous love ballads--which was because Bell knew what he had with lead singer Russell Thompkins Jr.--"Rockin' Roll Baby" might be the greatest of all their records, precisely because it's so different. Thompkins' feathery falsetto meant he couldn't be a soul shouter like Philly comtemporaries Teddy Pendergrass (of the Blue Notes) or Eddie Levert (of the O'Jays), but Bell concocted the perfect uptempo environment for Thompkins, one of the greatest backing tracks in Philly soul history. And from a radio standpoint, it also has one of the greatest talkover introductions of all time.
#1: "Bennie and the Jets"/Elton John
(In keeping with its identity as "the Big 8," CKLW went to a Top 80 this year.)
#80: "Can't Get Enough"/Bad Company
Top album: Bad Company/Bad Company
Comment: 1974 was the first full year in which Canadian radio stations were required to program a specific amount of Canadian-created content. To make room, CKLW dropped a lot of soul records. The 1974 list thus shows far less local variation--yet despite the new rules, it has precious little Canadian content.
#1: "Love Will Keep Us Together"/Captain and Tennille
#80: "School Boy Crush"/AWB
Top album: Beautiful Loser/Bob Seger
Weirdest entry: "Try to Remember-The Way We Were" by Gladys Knight and the Pips at Number 17. Not a bad record, but not exactly "Midnight Train to Georgia," either.
#1: "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"/Lou Rawls
#80: "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word"/Elton John
Top album: Live Bullet/Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Most interesting entry: "Roxy Roller" by Sweeney Todd at Number 53. Canadian content and then some: In November, Homercat at Good Rockin' Tonight told the convoluted tale of how several competing versions of "Roxy Roller" ended up in the marketplace at approximately the same time. It's worthwhile reading for chart trivia geeks, even if the track itself is no longer available at Homercat's place.
Truncated CKLW charts (showing only 40 of the Top 80 or 100) for 1967 and 1978 are here.
As I've written before, listening to the countdown on New Year's Eve was a big part of my life during the 1970s. At least twice, before I was old enough to drive, I spent New Year's Eve hanging out with my pal Curt, listening to the countdown and writing down all the song titles. Curt and I will be hanging out together again tonight. With our wives. And with his three-month-old grandson.
("Rockin' Roll Baby" is a WMA file; buy the Stylistics here.)