No. 50 Fifty Years Ago (May 1970)

It’s time for another game of Symmetry, and today, we’ll head back to the last month of my junior year of high school, a time I recall as being among the best musical seasons of my life. (As to the other aspects of my life, well, I was sixteen and learning.)

Here’s the Top Ten from Billboard for the second week in May 1970:

“American Woman/No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who
“ABC” by the Jackson 5
“Let It Be” by the Beatles
“Vehicle” by the Ides Of March
“Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
“Love Or Let Me Be Lonely” by the Friends Of Distinction
“Everything Is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens
“Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” by John Ono Lennon
“Turn Back The Hands Of Time” by Tyrone Davis
“Reflections Of My Life” by Marmalade

There’s no way I can critically assess most of those eleven records. They were my afternoon and evening companions during that long-ago spring. Ray Stevens’ record would elicit a groan when it came through the radio speakers, but the others were always welcome.

My rankings at the time would have put the records by the Friends Of Distinction and Tyrone Davis in ninth and tenth place, and they might have deserved better, being fine pieces of pop soul, a genre that wasn’t really in my wheelhouse back then. Even today, the best either one of them could do is sixth place, behind “Let It Be,” “Instant Karma,” “Spirit In The Sky,” “Reflections Of My Life,” and “Vehicle.”

I should note that the version of “Let It Be” I heard on the radio was the version produced by George Martin, and I was startled not long after this Top Ten came out when I bought the Let It Be album and heard the very different version Phil Spector came up with when he produced the album. Fifty years later, I still prefer the single version (though Spector’s version is not nearly as jarring now as it was then).

I think I’ve made reference over the years here to the three-day performing and touring trip by the St. Cloud Tech Concert Choir in the spring of 1970. Somebody brought a radio, and I’m certain we heard all eleven of those records. I specifically recall two of them – “Spirit In The Sky” and “Instant Karma” – competing with the conversation and laughter of about sixty high school seniors and juniors as we headed through the Minnesota night toward the Canadian border and the city of Winnipeg.

So those records are part of my musical DNA, and I’d guess that ten of them are in the iPod and thus are still part of my day-to-day listening. And I’m right. The only record of the eleven in that list at the top of the page that is not in the iPod is the Ray Stevens record. I imagine that somewhere from the years 1969 through 1972, I could find a Top Ten that’s an iPod sweep, but until that shows up, ten out of eleven is pretty damned good.

But what about our other business this morning? What do we find when we drop to No. 50? Well, we find a record that’s not on any of the shelves here: “Chicken Strut” by the Meters. So all we can do is note that the record went no higher, and then listen . . . and cluck.

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