Forty years ago this week, I was getting to know the album that was on top of the Billboard pop chart: Rick had stopped over a couple of days before Christmas 1972 so we could exchange gifts. I don’t recall what I gave Rick that Christmas. It was probably an LP, just like his gift to me. He handed me a carefully wrapped copy of Seventh Sojourn, the most recent album by the Moody Blues.
As I dropped the album on the turntable for the first time – probably sometime during the days just after Christmas – I knew one of the tracks on the record: “Isn’t Life Strange” had been released as a single in the spring, reaching No. 29 in the Billboard Hot 100. I liked the single pretty well; I remembered it from the radio and recalled hearing it that summer on the big speakers at the municipal swimming pool as I took breaks during my regular Saturday evening bicycle rides.
And the rest of Seventh Sojourn was pretty good, from the opener of “Lost in a Lost World” through the closer of “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band),” which was released as a single in early 1973 and went to No. 12. The lyrics told tales without the quasi-mysticism that had dominated so much of the group’s work since, oh, In Search of the Lost Chord in 1968, and the musicianship and production were solid. All of it worked well with what I perceived as the album’s themes of displacement, loss and love, themes that were summed up, I’d venture now, in the title of that opening track: “Lost in a Lost World.”
What I didn’t know as I opened Rick’s gift – not being a chart watcher or even particularly interested in the charts – was that Seventh Sojourn was in its fourth week as the No. 1 album in the U.S., with one more week yet to come in early January. Looking back, and knowing that I’ve spent much of my musical life trying to catch up with music that was released years earlier, I would guess it was pretty rare for me to own an album at the time it topped the charts. How rare?
Well, I did some digging this morning in The Billboard Book of Number One Albums by Craig Rosen, in Joel Whitburn’s Billboard Top Ten Album Charts (1963-1998) and in my own LP database. It turns out that out of the nearly 3,000 LPs sitting in the stacks (or in crates on the floor), I owned four of them at the time they were No 1. I think that’s the case with a fifth LP, and there’s a sixth album that I owned on cassette when it was No. 1.
Beatles ’65 was the No. 1 album for nine weeks between January 9 and March 6, 1965. During my attempt in about 1970 to estimate when I got my early albums, I guessed – because of the year in the title – that my sister and I had been given Beatles ’65 for Christmas 1965. Given that the album was actually released in December 1964, we probably got it for Christmas in 1964. I’m not sure, but it makes sense.
Johnny Cash at San Quentin was the No. 1 album for four weeks between August 23 and September 16, 1969, and I got the album sometime during August that year. I’d guess – from this distance – that my interest in the album was piqued by hearing the album’s single, “A Boy Named Sue,” on the radio. The single entered the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of July 1969 and peaked at No. 2.
Abbey Road by the Beatles was the No. 1 album for eleven non-consecutive weeks between November 1, 1969 and January 24, 1970. It’s one of the few albums I’ve owned in three different formats: cassette, LP and CD. I got the tape first. Having heard “Come Together” several times since its early October release, I was intrigued, and I noticed in late October that the local J.C. Penney’s store was selling the cassette of the recently released Abbey Road at what seemed like a low price even then: $3.50. Why the cassette? Because I had gotten my cassette player that summer and still had only one cassette to play: Blood, Sweat & Tears’ second, self-titled album. My sister worked at the mall, and I handed her my cash and asked her to pick up Abbey Road for me.
Let It Be by the Beatles was No. 1 for four weeks, from June 13 through July 4, 1970. Having been influenced by Abbey Road, I bought Let It Be – the LP – either on the day it was released or the day after: May 18 or 19, 1970. I was no doubt also influenced by the title track, which entered the Hot 100 in mid-March and spent two weeks at No. 1 in April.
I wrote about Seventh Sojourn above. After that, I went almost fifteen years before owning an album while it was at No. 1.
The soundtrack to Dirty Dancing was No. 1, according to Rosen’s book, for eighteen non-consecutive weeks in 1987 and 1988. Whitburn’s Top Ten Album Charts shows the album at No. 1 seventeen times between November 14, 1987 and May 7, 1988. I can’t find the eighteenth week, but never mind. I got my copy on November 27, 1987. A lady friend and I had seen the movie the night before in St. Cloud and, after the movie, tried to get to a nearby Kmart or Shopko before closing time to get the soundtrack. We were late, and we had to wait until the next day. That’s when we grabbed a copy of the LP during a previously planned trip to the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis, near the University of Minnesota’s main campus.
Those are six pretty good albums. I won’t say that Seventh Sojourn is my favorite among them – Abbey Road is pretty high on my list – but as it was the Moody Blues’ album that sparked this morning’s research, here’s one of my favorite tracks from the album. Michael Pinder’s “When You’re a Free Man” is the next-to-last track on the album. It’s directed, I’m pretty sure, to an American – real or imagined, I don’t know – who went to Canada to evade the draft during the Vietnam War. I found it haunting in early 1973, and I still do today.
Tags: Moody Blues