Chart Digging: Four Julys

It’s time to dig into some Billboard Hot 100s from a few different Julys. We’re going to play some Games With Numbers and turn today’s date – 7/11/18 – into 36, and check out the No. 36 record on four charts, starting in 1976 and heading back four years at a time.

As we customarily do when we play these games, we’ll check out the No. 1 record for those weeks at the same time.

The second week of July 1976 found the country recovering from its Bicentennial celebration, the climax of what seemed at the time to have been about five years of preparation and marketing. If you didn’t have something Bicentennial themed in your house, you were either unpatriotic or worse, a spoilsport. Anyway, just less than a week after the hoopla reached its climax, the No. 36 record in the Hot 100 was a discofied version of one of the greatest and most familiar pieces of classical music: “A Fifth of Beethoven” by Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band, which was heading up the charts to No. 1. (It would reach No. 10 on the magazine’s R&B chart and No. 13 on what was then called the Easy Listening chart.)

It was the only Top 40 hit for Murphy, who had been an arranger for Doc Severinsen and the orchestra for The Tonight Show. (That means there’s only one degree of separation, as folks say, between me and Murphy, as I’ve met Doc Severinsen twice.). Two other releases, “Flight ’76,” based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” and 1982’s “Themes from E.T. (The Extra-terrestrial),” went to Nos. 44 and 47 respectively. And Murphy’s condensed and discofied take on George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 102 in early 1977.

The No. 1 record during the second week of July 1976 was “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band.

Heading back four years from that puts us in the summer of 1972, when I was working half-time as a janitor and planning a trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba, with my pals Rick and Gary. (The ease with which we crossed from the U.S. into Canada that summer now astounds me. We showed the Canadian officials our driver’s licenses and the hand-written letter my dad had supplied that gave us his permission to take my 1961 Falcon – which Dad technically owned – across the border. Returning to Minnesota a few days later was just as easy. Simpler times.) Anyway, the No. 36 record as our plans for our trip were taking shape was a pairing of song and singer that itself echoed a time a decade earlier that in 1972 seemed much simpler: “Sealed With A Kiss” by Bobby Vinton.

Vinton’s version doesn’t stray far from the feel of Brian Hyland’s 1962 version that went to No. 3, and both are appreciably less mournful – to my ears, anyway – than the non-charting 1960 original by the Four Voices. Vinton’s version was on its way to No. 19 (No. 2, Easy Listening) during the second week of July. It was the thirty-eighth record Vinton had in or near the Hot 100 in a ten year period. He’d add eleven more through 1981 before the hits ran out.

Parked at No. 1 that week in 1972 was Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”

We’ve dallied a lot in recent months in the memorable year of 1968, but a four-year retreat from 1972 finds us there once again. And – as I’ve noted here many times before – it was likely around this time that I spent four days working at the state trap shoot, getting dirty with tar dust and listening to the radio for eight or so hours each day. Nevertheless, I don’t recall KDWB offering me Wilson Pickett’s “I’m A Midnight Mover” during those four days. It was sitting at No. 36 fifty years ago this week, and if I heard it then, if just didn’t make an impression, which – based on a listening this morning – seems unlikely.

The record peaked at No. 24 on the Hot 100 (and at No. 6 on the R&B chart), one of the forty-three records Pickett placed in or near the Hot 100 between 1963 and 1973 (with forty of his records reaching the R&B Top 40).

The No. 1 record during that week in July 1968 was “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert.

Whatever I may have been doing during in early July 1964, it hasn’t stuck in my memory. I was ten, with sixth grade at Lincoln Elementary on the horizon, and I was probably just finishing up summer school. That might have been the year my summer classmates and I were featured in the Shopping News for building a fake igloo for our studies on Alaska. In any case, I’m sure I spent a lot of time with Rick, both of us lazing away summer days in a way that I’m certain kids these days are not allowed to do. We didn’t really listen to pop music then, but we no doubt heard it when we were around older kids. Still, I would guess that Terry Stafford’s “I’ll Touch A Star” – the No. 36 record fifty-four years ago this week – was something we missed.

The record was Stafford’s follow-up to his No. 3 hit, “Suspicion,” and like that record, it was a bit of traditional pop in a time when the charts were mixing traditional pop and R&B and English hits and surf sounds and light jazz in such a way that listening to a Top 40 station would have been an adventure. “I’ll Touch A Star” peaked at No. 25 (No. 4 Easy Listening, where, surprisingly, “Suspicion” had failed to chart). Stafford had only one more record tickle the Hot 100: “Follow The Rainbow” bubbled under at No. 101 later that summer in 1964. He went on to place a few records in the bottom half of the country Top 40 in the 1970s.

The No. 1 record during the second week of July in 1964 was “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys.

(It’s interesting to note that – based on a little bit of digging – this post marks the first time that I’ve ever featured the music of Terry Stafford, Bobby Vinton or Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band. I’ve mentioned Vinton frequently and Walter Murphy & The Big Apple Band a few times. Until today, I’ve never mentioned Terry Stafford over the course of some 2,100 posts.)

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