So what were they listening to forty years ago in the American heartland? Well, in Garden City, Kansas, a lot of the stuff on the KUPK Music Survey from March 15, 1974, is familiar.
For those who don’t know – and until a few moments ago, I was one of them (thank you, Google) – Garden City is in the southwestern portion of the Sunflower State, about a hundred miles east of the Colorado border and a hundred miles north of the Oklahoma border. It was home in 2010 to not quite 27,000 people; using the census data offered at Wikipedia and doing a little bit of math, we can extrapolate that in 1974, there were probably about 16,000 folks in Garden City.
(And in case the name of the city gives readers the “Why is that familiar?” tingle, Garden City is the county seat of Finney County and was the site of the murder trials of Richard Hickock and Perry Edward Smith for killing the Clutter family of nearby Holcomb, as depicted in Truman Capote’s 1966 book In Cold Blood.)
So, what were the Top 40 listeners of Garden City and the rest of Finney County listening to as March reached its mid-point forty years ago? The Top Ten is, as one might expect, familiar:
“Season In The Sun” by Terry Jacks
“Dark Lady” by Cher
“Mocking Bird” by James Taylor & Carly Simon
“Sunshine On My Shoulders” by John Denver
“Jet” by Paul McCartney & Wings
“Boogie Down” by Eddie Kendricks
“Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Swede
“You’re Sixteen” by Ringo Starr
“Bennie & The Jets” by Elton John
“Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer
Eight of those range from okay to pretty good. The singles on the “pretty good” end of that scale are the ones from Paul McCartney & Wings, Eddie Kendricks (which showed up in this space the other day), Ringo Starr and Elton John. There are four records from that ten that are middlingly good, and then there are two that scrape the bottom of my particular barrel: I likely don’t need to say anything about “Seasons In The Sun,” and as I once wrote here long ago, “Sunshine On My Shoulders” was where John Denver lost me.
But what records were the folks in southwestern Kansas favoring that folks elsewhere were not listening to as avidly? There we find some surprises. Actually, a lot of surprises.
When I look at surveys from small town stations – and I do so often, digging around at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive but not always writing about it here – I’m not at all surprised to find two or three or maybe five singles getting airplay to a greater degree than they got nationally. But in mid-March of 1974 in Garden City, Kansas, thirteen of the records on KUPK’s survey were ranked higher in the area than they ever achieved in the Billboard charts. Four of those records on the survey, in fact, never got into the Billboard Hot 100 or Bubbled Under that list.
Maybe a survey like that isn’t that rare. I’m not an expert on surveys. But I have looked at a lot of them, and this one – the only one from KUPK (1050 AM/97.3 FM) at ARSA – seems very odd. So odd, in fact, that I’m going to set it aside and we’ll dig into some of those seemingly skewed listings next week.
But we will take a listen to one of them today. About two-and-a-half years ago, I looked at a Billboard Hot 100 from November 10, 1973, and I wrote about Nino Tempo:
“He and his sister, April Stevens, had a No. 1 hit in 1963 with their cover of ‘Deep Purple,’ a song written in 1923 by Peter DeRose that became a big band standard after Mitchell Parish added lyrics in 1938. As a duo, Tempo and Stevens had fifteen other records in or near the Hot 100 between 1962 and 1973. In the autumn of 1973, however, Stevens evidently wasn’t involved when ‘Sister James’ – credited to Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax – was on the charts. A nifty, slightly funky record, ‘Sister James’ was sitting at No. 74 [in that 1973 chart] after peaking at No. 53 during the last week of October. It was the last time Tempo made the charts; Stevens – billed only as ‘April’ – would reach No. 93 with ‘Wake Up And Love Me’ during the summer of 1974.”
“Sister James” might have been the last time that Tempo made the charts, but it wasn’t because he gave up. Three months or so after “Sister James” went to No. 53, Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax released another funky single, “Roll It.” Pulled from the 1974 album Come See Me ’Round Midnight (where one could find “Sister James” as well), “Roll It” did not dent the Billboard Hot 100.
But folks in Garden City, Kansas, dug it: “Roll It” (credited only to Nino Tempo) was sitting at No. 22 in the KPUK survey forty years ago today. So, because some good folks in and around Garden City seem to have gotten the funk, and because I like it, too, “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax is today’s Saturday Single.