I was introduced to beerball in the spring of 1972. The concept was simple: Everyone in a group – in this case, the staffers at KVSC, St. Cloud State’s student radio station – chipped in a minimal amount of money, and two or three drinking-age staffers headed to the liquor store. Those two or three staffers would then meet the rest of the crew at a softball diamond somewhere near campus, bringing with them a couple of cases of cheap beer. With teams somehow selected, softball play began, except everyone always had a bottle of beer at hand.
If you were at bat, you placed your bottle a short distance from home plate. If you got a hit or otherwise reached base, there was an automatic time out for you to go back to home plate, retrieve your beer and bring it with you onto the base paths. Fielders had their bottles nearby, and if a batted ball hit a beer bottle, it was an automatic out. And when a player in the field emptied his or her bottle before the inning was over, it was his or her right to call a timeout in order to come in to the cooler to get another beer to take back into the field.
The weekly games usually took place on Wednesday afternoon, beginning sometime after three o’clock or whenever enough of us could break away from classes and our duties at the radio station. They ended, if memory serves me, somewhere between seven and eight o’clock, when many of us would wobble downtown for something to eat. (And for those who, unlike me, were of legal drinking age in the spring of 1972, most likely more beer or related beverages: Wednesday night was party night in St. Cloud in the early 1970s, as early classes did not meet Thursday mornings.)
Sometimes, we drank Cold Spring, a beer brewed in the little town of that name just fifteen miles southwest of St. Cloud. The brewery still exists, now producing microbrews and beers for various other brewers; its best product is probably John Henry Three Lick Spiker Ale. Forty years ago, in the days before craft beers and before any of us had full-time paychecks, we drank the cheap stuff. And Cold Spring was cheap and not all that good.
Other times, we’d dig into a couple of cases of Buckhorn, a budget beer brewed – if I read Wikipedia correctly – by the folks who brewed Lone Star Beer in Texas. Buckhorn was bad beer, too. I knew that even then, but it was a perfectly good beer at the time to carry on the way from first to second base.
As we played beerball, we had music, of course. Sometimes we’d listen on a portable FM radio to whichever poor schmuck was stuck on air back at the KVSC studios and couldn’t get out to play beerball. More often than not, though, we had an AM radio tuned – most likely – to KDWB in the Twin Cities. And if – as seems likely – we played beerball forty years ago this week, we no doubt heard (and groaned at) a good share of the Billboard Top Ten:
“The Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr.
“I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers
“Oh Girl” by the Chi-Lites
“Song Sung Blue” by Neil Diamond
“Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show
“Nice To Be With You” by Gallery
“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack
“Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens
“Outa-Space/I Wrote A Simple Song” by Billy Preston
“(Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All” by the 5th Dimension
I didn’t care for much of that Top Ten forty years ago, and time has not changed that. Out of those, there are only three that I’d enjoy hearing with any regularity: The Staple Singers, the Chi-Lites and the first of the two Billy Preston titles. And I can gladly go years without hearing “The Candy Man” ever again.
Luckily, there are some better things lower down in the Hot 100 from June 10, 1972, so let’s head that way.
When Stephen Stills released Manassas in the spring of 1972, it was a solo album with a stellar supporting cast (Chris Hillman, Dallas Taylor, Paul Harris, Fuzzy Samuels, Al Perkins and Joe Lala with cameos from Sidney George, Bill Wyman and Byron Berline). A year later, recording under the name of Manassas, the same group of musicians (with a few extra folks) released Down the Road. That always kind of confused me when I was a casual record buyer and didn’t really have any reference books to figure out stuff like that. Anyway, sitting at No. 62 forty years ago this week was “It Doesn’t Matter” from Manassas. A decent enough record, it would go one spot higher.
Just two spots further down, at No. 64, sits a great piece of power pop/boogie from the Raiders. “Powder Blue Mercedes Queen” was the Raiders’ third record to hit the Hot 100 since “Indian Reservation” went to No. 1 in early 1971. But like the previous two entrants, “PBMQ” would fall short of that rarified position, peaking at No. 54. Stylistically, it was a long way from the Raiders’ two country-rock-ish previous releases (“Birds of a Feather” and “Country Wine,” which went to Nos. 23 and 51 respectively). As good as it was, I imagine it didn’t sound the way folks expected the Raiders to sound.
According to the legend, Ringo Starr caught a performance by English singer-songwriter Chris Hodge and got him signed to Apple Records. Hodge’s website says, “Ringo and Chris shared a common interest in sci-fi and UFOs,” which led to Apple releasing Hodge’s trippy “We’re On Our Way” with its references to saucers and astral moonbeams. The record was sitting at No. 69 forty years ago this week, on its way to No. 44. It was the only release by Hodge to reach the chart.
Just a little further down, we find some early boogie by ZZ Top. The first charting single for the Texas trio, “Francene” was sitting at No. 77 and would eventually get to No. 69. As the Seventies moved along and turned into the Eighties, of course, ZZ Top became a fixture in the Top 40 with a couple of No. 8 hits (“Legs” in 1984 and “Sleeping Bag” in 1985). As for “Francene,” one of the commenters at YouTube noted the Rolling Stones-like cries of “Whee!” (or however one might spell it) in the last few moments. Not sure about anyone else, but they work for me.
Sitting at No. 83, we find what I think is one of Rod Stewart’s best vocal performances ever with “In A Broken Dream” from the Australian group Python Lee Jackson. The song was recorded in the 1960s, before Stewart became a star, according to Wikipedia: “Believing his vocals were not correct for the song, [songwriter and Python Lee Jackson member Dave] Bentley brought in Rod Stewart . . . as a session musician for the song.” Wikipedia goes on to note that Stewart was paid for the session with a new set of seat covers for his car. First released in 1970, the record did not make the charts. In 1972 (not coincidentally after Stewart was a star), the record went to No. 56 in the U.S. before becoming a No. 3 hit in the United Kingdom.
I’ve written about my admiration for Jackie DeShannon before, and I was hoping to share a video of her “Vanilla Ólay,” which was sitting at No. 99 forty years ago this week. But that’s not possible, says YouTube. A closer look at the copies I have of the Billboard Hot 100, however, shows that “Vanilla Ólay” was the A-Side of a double-sided single, with DeShannon’s cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” on the B-Side. That’s not the way Joel Whitburn has it listed in Top Pop Singles, but I’m going to give you “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” anyway. The single – however it was promoted – went to No. 76.