… on a cloudy day (The Temptations top the singles charts)

On March 6, 1965, “My Girl” became the Temptations’ first #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 — the first of four chart-topping singles for the Motown supergroup.

I have written about the Temptations before. Their songs transcended pop music.

“My Girl” was a ballad written and produced by William “Smokey” Robinson and Ronald “Ronnie” White of the Miracles. Robinson had written the hit “My Guy” for Mary Wells one year earlier.

The inspiration behind Robinson’s lyrics came from his wife, and Miracles member, Claudette. The beauty in the song’s words, like so many of Robinson’s compositions, is why Bob Dylan called him “America’s greatest living poet.”

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May

You can hear the music as you read those words. The bassline of James Jamerson. The ascending guitar played by Robert White. Once again, instrumentation from The Funk Brothers, Motown’s in-house band of (numerous) session musicians, added to the soundtrack of the ’60s and made “My Girl” one of Motown’s most familiar melodies.

The lore behind the song is that the Miracles and the Temptations were performing together at Harlem’s Apollo Theater and, after the show, the Temptations heard the rhythm track for “My Girl” and begged Robinson to let them record the song as their own.

A different version of the story claims that Robinson had to persuade the Temptations to record his song. While watching the Temptations perform, Robinson was so impressed with the group’s newest member, David Ruffin, he wanted Ruffin to sing lead on a new song he’d written (Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams had been sharing the group’s lead-vocal duties). After persuading the group, Robinson headed back to Detroit with the quintet to produce the recording session.

Another version has Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, instructing Robinson and White to write and produce hits for the Temptations – with “My Girl” becoming the most successful song from their collaboration.

Regardless of how the recording came together, “My Girl” debuted at #76 on the singles chart on January 16 and, seven weeks later, was sitting at #1. But its reign would be fleeting. The song dropped to #2 the following week (bumped by the Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week”).

Here’s a performance of “My Girl” from Shindig!, a mid-60s music program on the ABC television network: https://youtu.be/GpV33-wpREU

March 6, 1965, top hits on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart

March 6, 1965, top hits on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart

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“Revved up like a deuce” causes stir with American radio audiences in 1977

On February 19, 1977, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band reached the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for singles. The song “Blinded by the Light” had been at #3 the previous week, but after 14 weeks on the charts, it made the leap to knock Mary MacGregor’s “Torn Between Two Lovers” from the top position. The song would reign at #1 for one week — only to be knocked back to #3 by Eagles’ “New Kid in Town.”

“Blinded by the Light” is a song Bruce Springsteen wrote for his 1973 album Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.. Springsteen wrote it, and the song “Spirit in the Night,” after Clive Davis, the president for Columbia Records, mentioned he wanted a single for the album. Columbia released Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” as a single, but it didn’t chart.

The British rock band Manfred Mann’s Earth Band recorded “Blinded by the Light” for its The Roaring Silence album. The band chose the song because it had had chart success in 1975 with their version of Springsteen’s “Spirit in the Night.” For their cover version of “Blinded by the Light,” Manfred Mann’s Earth Band added synthesizers and organ to give the song a prog-rock, pop feel.

The lyrics to the song were also changed. Springsteen’s original line “cut loose like a deuce” became “revved up like a deuce.” But American radio audiences misheard the new lyric. Revved up sounded like wrapped up, and a lisp caused deuce to sound like douche. The new version caused a sensation among radio listeners and, decades later during a VH-1 Storytellers program, even Springsteen would laugh that Manfred Mann’s decision to rewrite the song as a feminine hygiene product made it all the more popular — and gave Springsteen his first #1 single as a songwriter.

The album version of “Blinded by the Light” is more than seven minutes long, and the radio edit for the single chopped it down to 3:48. Here’s the album version of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band cover of “Blinded by the Light.”

https://youtu.be/xJh47LybCkU: “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band would release another cover from Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. as single. “For You,” from the album Chance was released as a single in 1981.

Feb. 19, 1977 -- the top 18 from the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart

Feb. 19, 1977 — the top 18 from the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart

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KVNO-FM’s The Last Radio Show: My First Two Feature Albums

I came across an envelope with notes and materials from my days as a disc jockey on The Last Radio Show, the late night, student-programmed radio show that closed the broadcast day for classical music station KVNO, 90.7 FM, in Omaha, Nebraska.

The station was licensed to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and employed numerous students. But Monday through Saturday, from 10:10pm to 2am, the station relinquished its format to six mass communication majors, who were allowed to play free-form, unfettered, album-oriented music. In January 1977, I was given the Friday night shift. It was mine to program for the next 52 weeks, unless I really did something wrong.

Every night on The Last Radio Show (LRS), a new release was showcased as the evening’s Feature Album. The idea was to play at least one track from the featured album every hour during your four-hour shift. Typically the program director (an appointment bestowed by the faculty/management upon one of the LRS jocks) would assign an album he thought you might know something about. Sometimes the new release was simply foisted on you – and in 1977’s pre-Google world, it made researching unknown bands difficult.

My first feature album was Bill Quateman’s Night After Night. Quateman was a Chicago singer-songwriter who has been successful over the years, and should’ve generated more fame for his music. Night After Night was Quateman’s first release on the RCA Victor label. Oddly enough, I had heard much of this album at a 1975 Styx concert in Lincoln, Nebr., when Quateman opened for his hometown contemporaries (who were about to hit it big). In ’75, Quateman was coming off his 1972 release for Columbia Records and he was looking for a new record deal – a deal that wouldn’t materialize for another two years.

When I saw Quateman open for Styx, he referred to his band as The Tuxedos. It featured Caleb Quaye on guitar, Tom Radtke on drums and Rollo Radford on bass. Months after that show, Quaye would leave to join The Elton John Band. Quaye performs on Night After Night, but he was gone from the scene by 1977.

I picked two songs from Night After Night that I had heard in concert (the title track being one, Carolina was the other) and two other tracks. Quateman is my kind of musician. He dabbles in all genres of music and sound. Some have compared him to Eric Carmen or Harry Nilsson or early Elton John — for his piano playing and crooning. But the man could rock and drift into funky, jazz grooves, too. Night After Night would peak at #129 on the album charts in the U.S.

On February 4, my feature album was Makings of a Dream from the California funk band called Crackin’ — which our program director misspelled in his report to the record labels (see page 3 from the report below — Warner Bros. Records had to be unimpressed by this).

Crackin’ was fronted by a former Omaha musician named Lester Abrams. Abrams is probably best known for winning Grammy Awards for his work on The Doobie Brothers’ Minute by Minute album. Abrams arranged “What a Fool Believes” and co-wrote “Open Your Eyes” and the LP’s title track.

In Crackin’, Abrams sang and played keyboards. Other members of the band included Rick Chudacoff on bass, Leslie Smith on vocals, and Arno Lucas on vocals and percussion. Chudacoff has gone on to a career producing music for big name artists from various music genres. He’s been called a “noted Nashville hitmaker.”

Makings of a Dream was the second Crackin’ album. I had purchased, and still own, the band’s 1975 self-titled release on the Polydor label. “Take Me to the Bridge,” with its refrains of the album’s title, is still a great track. The entire album contains smart, funky sounds, but listeners could’ve easily assumed they were listening to The Average White Band or Earth, Wind & Fire.

Attached are pages 2 and 3 from The Last Radio Show’s report to the record labels. It shows the remaining Top 25 albums played between January 24 and February 5 (the first 14 can be seen in the attachment from my last post). The pages also list the tracks from the feature albums my classmates chose to play on their night of free-form radio — David Bowie, Milton Nascimento, The Average White Band, Chick Corea, Leon Redbone …

1977 was an amazing year for music.

The Last Radio Show - KVNO Omaha - Jan 24 - Feb 5 1977 playlist, p. 2

The Last Radio Show – KVNO Omaha – Jan 24 – Feb 5 1977 playlist, p. 2

The Last Radio Show - KVNO Omaha - Jan 24 - Feb 5 1977 playlist, p. 3

The Last Radio Show – KVNO Omaha – Jan 24 – Feb 5 1977 playlist, p. 3

Crackin' ad from 1977 Billboard magazine

“The San Francisco band with the novel feature of three lead singers and a grand total of seven steaming instrumentalists.” – from Feb. 22 ad in Billboard

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KVNO-FM’s The Last Radio Show: free-form radio out of Omaha in the 1970s

On January 28, 1977, I began my radio broadcasting career.

It was a Friday night air shift for the classical music station KVNO, licensed to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and found at 90.7 on the FM dial. The station’s board shifts were mostly run by students and, in compliance with rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), I took the test to acquire my Third Class Radiotelephone Operator permit (“third phone” in radio vernacular) which allowed me to check meters and operate the station by myself.

I had worked on the campus Top 40 radio station — a hardwired, closed-circuit feed to multiple locations in the student center — but had never been responsible for the untethered, wireless communication of a broadcast transmission signal.

Half of my responsibility was engineering (signing onto the FCC operating log and keeping hourly records of RF power, various dials with amps and kilovolts and megahertz measurements, plate voltage readings and a few other details that escape me for now), and the other half was running programs via the board, using two turntables, three cart machines, three reel-to-reel decks and a live feed from the Mutual Broadcast Network.

From 8pm to 10pm, I played classical music from vinyl and rolled the companion pre-recorded announcements about each composition, complete with perfectly-timed legal IDs, from reel-to-reel. At 10pm, I uttered my first words across the ether, “From the campus of UNO, this is KVNO, Omaha, 90.7 FM,” and switched to the Mutual Broadcasting Network’s newscast. After that, at 10:10, I was given complete freedom to jar the airwaves for the next four hours.

From 10:10pm to 2am, Monday through Saturday, KVNO allowed six students to program a night of alternative, free-form, album-oriented music on a program called The Last Radio Show.

The DJ’s for The Last Radio Show were an eclectic group of mass communication majors at UNO. When I joined in January of 1977, the others were wrapping up their year-long stint with the show. We had two DJ’s whose tastes leaned toward country rock, one who loved fusion jazz, one who loved bluesy rock and tracks that ran longer than 15 minutes, and another who played an assortment of music, from folk rock to progressive rock. I was part of the next wave of underclassmen to take the reins, and my tastes included a variety of styles, artists and sounds.

The Last Radio Show opened with a faux-1920s ballroom radio announcer welcoming listeners to the evening’s broadcast from “high atop the Storz Mansion” while “Bie Mir Bistu Shein” played underneath. As the 25-second open faded out, The Last Radio Show disc jockeys would let loose with music unlike anything heard earlier on KVNO.

The first song I spun on January 28 was a request from a listener. During Mutual’s newscast, the request line lit up and I was eager to talk to a caller. He was a dishwasher, who worked at the Mt. Fuji Inn restaurant, and he asked to hear the Allman Brothers “Whipping Post.” I think I had something from David Bowie’s Low album planned, or maybe a Todd Rundgren track cued up, but “Whipping Post” felt perfect for a Friday night of musical freedom.

On this night in 1977, the radio bug bit me. It would add to my passion for music, and the medium, for years to come.

Attached is page one of the three-page report sent to record labels. It gives you an idea where free-form radio was in Omaha during early 1977. Pages two and three of the report can be found here.

The Last Radio Show - KVNO Omaha - Jan 24 - Feb 5 1977 playlist

The Last Radio Show – KVNO Omaha – Jan 24 – Feb 5 1977 playlist

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There ain’t enough goin’ on down here (to the … to the … to the … to the Mainline)

On August 31, 1974, Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Blvd. was #1 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tapes chart for the third week in a row. The album, Clapton’s second solo release, received lukewarm reviews from critics and includes his only #1 single in the United States — a cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.”

The LP’s title refers to the address in Golden Beach, Fla., where Clapton lived while making the album.

My favorite track is the George Terry song titled “Mainline Florida.” Terry played guitar and sang on the album. By 1974, Clapton had overcome his heroin addiction. Some believe the song refers to that, but the Florida Turnpike is also known as the Mainline.


Aug. 31, 1974's Top LPs

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Gordon Lightfoot’s “Beautiful” song from ’72

On May 27, 1972, Gordon Lightfoot’s “Beautiful” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart at #96.

“Beautiful” is simply that—a gorgeous love song wrapped in the simplicity of an acoustic arrangement and accented by the lush timbre of Lightfoot’s poetic resonance. This has always been a personal favorite.

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot, Jr. was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1938. Valerie Magee writes on Lightfoot’s website: “His parents recognized and encouraged his interest in music; his first appearance at Massey Hall in Toronto … was just before he turned 13, as the winner of a competition for boys with unchanged voices. After a background in barbershop quartets, and as a member of a duo, Lightfoot struck out on his own in the early 60s.”

Lightfoot signed with Albert Grossman, who managed folk performers like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Peter, Paul & Mary. He recorded five albums in the 1960’s before forming his own company and taking control of his career. In 1970, Lightfoot signed with Reprise Records.

“Beautiful” is from Lightfoot’s third album on the Reprise label, Don Quixote, and the single peaked on the US singles chart (after 10 weeks) at #58. In Canada, “Beautiful” would go to #13.

Lightfoot’s first hit with Reprise, “If You Could Read My Mind,” had topped out at #5 on the US singles chart. “Beautiful” was his second song to crack the Top 100 and, in two years, Lightfoot would release three subsequent singles that would each go to #1 (“Sundown” and “Carefree Highway” in 1974, and “Rainy Day People” in 1975).

The singer-songwriter’s distinct poetry and melodies appealed to folk artists and country musicians. Over the years, Lightfoot’s songs have been recorded by Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell, Petula Clark, Barbra Streisand—and recently by Sarah McLachlan and Paul Weller.

In 2012, Lightfoot was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.


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It’s Alive! The Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”

On May 26, 1973, the #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Frankenstein” by the Edgar Winter Group.

Edgar Holland Winter was born in Beaumont, Texas, in 1946. His older brother is the legendary blues guitarist, Johnny Winter. Playing musical instruments was encouraged and nurtured by their parents, and Edgar is as proficient on saxophone and percussion as he is on keyboards (during “Frankenstein,” Winter showcases his skill on all three).

By the time they were teens, the Winter brothers were regularly performing locally. An early gig for the brothers, when they were 10 and 8, was at a local TV station, where they performed Everly Brothers songs (with Johnny on ukulele).

Edgar played on brother Johnny’s The Progressive Blues Experiment album in 1968, became a member of the band, and performed at rock festivals across the country, including Woodstock (Edgar once claimed that a pre-synthesizer version of “Frankenstein” was played at the “3 Days of Peace & Music” festival).

By 1970, Edgar had a recording contract and assembled his own backup band, White Trash.  Edgar Winter’s White Trash recorded two albums and had a minor hit with “Keep Playin’ that Rock ‘n’ Roll.” In 1972, the Edgar Winter Group was formed with Dan Hartman on bass, Chuck Ruff on drums and Ronnie Montrose on guitar and mandolin (Montrose had played on Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey LP). The group began work on what would become the album They Only Come Out at Night. Rick Derringer, a member of White Trash, acted as the record’s producer, but also played bass and guitar on some of the tracks.

The song “Frankenstein” was never intended to appear on the album. Winter saw it as a live song because its improvisational nature. He merely referred to it as “the instrumental” and the band used the riff as a jam session to warm up before recording, but Derringer always had tape rolling. After accumulating four different jam sessions (of 20-30 minutes in length), Derringer suggested that there was enough material on the reels of tape to edit down into a song. Winter agreed to sift through the multiple jams and mix a final piece. The working title for the track was “The Double Drum Song” because of the dual solos with Ruff on drums and Winter on timbales. As Winter and Derringer cut sections of recording tape, draped them about the studio and pieced segments together with splicing tape, Ruff made the comment, ” … it’s like Frankenstein.” The allusion stuck and became the song’s title.

They Only Come Out at Night was released in November 1972. Its opening track, “Hangin’ Around,” was selected as the first single with “Frankenstein” designated for the B-side. But, as so often happens in pop music history, the B-side was the song that radio listeners in the US and Canada requested DJ’s to play again and again. The label quickly reversed the song order on future pressings, and “Frankenstein” became the official single from the album.

http://youtu.be/RSLP1FCREBA:  Edgar Winter Group – Frankenstein Live 1973

After 12 weeks on Billboard‘s singles chart, the song hit #1 and became a rarity in pop music — an instrumental at the top of the charts. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, it was uncommon for an instrumental to reach #1 and, when they did, it was typically from an orchestra or a movie theme. However, The Champs had deviated from the norm with “Tequila” in 1958 and The Tornadoes did it with “Telestar” in 1962.

It’s not as if pop instrumentals never made it into the Top 40. In the year preceding the success of “Frankenstein,” Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” and Focus’ “Hocus Pocus” both reached #9, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part 2)” topped out at #7, and Billy Preston’s “Outa-Space” got to #2. In the year following “Frankenstein,” instrumental #1 hits were more common, with songs from The Love Unlimited Orchestra, MFSB, The Average White Band and Van McCoy all reaching the top spot.

Edgar Winter is credited as being the first person to hook a guitar strap to a keyboard and perform with it on stage. Winter played the ARP 2600, which featured a keyboard that was not built into the synthesizer’s control mechanism. Instead, the relatively light keyboard connected to the synthesizer controls with a cable. Winter explained years later, “I thought, ‘Wow, looks like you could just pick this thing up, put a strap on it and play it like a guitar!’ I was the first person to have the idea of playing the keyboard in that fashion. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m free! I’m not stuck behind this bank of keyboards, where I can’t move and people can’t see what I’m doing.'”

“Frankenstein” would remain at #1 for only one week and get knocked to #3 by Paul McCartney & Wing’s “My Love” (Elton John’s “Daniel” jumped from #3 to #2). The Edgar Winter Group also released “Free Ride” as a single from the album and it would peak at #14.

A new generation of music fans are discovering “Frankenstein” after the Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl mentioned in his 2013 SXSW keynote address that “Frankenstein” was the inspiration for him to pick up an instrument and pursue a career in music.

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