So it’s July 4, Independence Day. And rather than get all philosophical about the meaning of the day or get all curmudgeonly about how that meaning gets ignored in favor of barbecues and fireworks – both of which I’ve done in the past – we’ll just talk about music. What we’ll do is dig into three separate editions of the weekly Billboard Hot 100 for a taste of what we were hearing on three July Fourths in the past. In a nod at history we’ll check out the records that sat at No. 17 and No. 76. And we’ll note, as we go by, the No. 1 record at the time.
We’ll start with 1966, go to 1971 and then finish in the Bicentennial year of 1976.
The Beatles were sitting atop the Hot 100 on July 4, 1966, as “Paperback Writer” was in its second week at No. 1. (It had been No. 1 two weeks earlier, was pushed to No. 2 for a week by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” and then moved back to No. 1 for another week.)
Another familiar tune was at No. 17: Simon & Garfunkel’s “I Am A Rock” was heading down the chart after peaking at No. 3, the fifth of an eventual twenty records the duo would put in or near the Hot 100. During high school a couple of years later, when I really listened for the first time to Paul Simon’s lyrics on the record, I admired the narrator’s stance for what I saw as his self-sufficiency. Now, more than forty years later, I hear Simon’s words and think, “Boy, what a lonely life that would be.”
R&B singer and songwriter Joe Simon had a long and productive career, with a total of thirty-five singles in or near the Hot 100 and a total of forty singles in the R&B Top 40 between 1964 and 1978. He shows up today with “Teenager’s Prayer” sitting at No. 76 on July 4, 1966. It’s a pretty but lyrically vague tune (the teenager in question asks for love and peace of mind, which are not bad things to pray for) that would peak at No. 66 on the pop chart and at No. 11 on the R&B chart.
When the fireworks went off on July 4, 1971, Carole King’s double-sided single, “It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move,” was in the fourth week of a five week stay at No. 1.
Just down the chart a ways, we find the only Top 40 hit by the Beginning of the End, an R&B group from the Bahamas. The groove-shaking “Funky Nassau – Part 1” was sitting at No. 17 in the first week of July 1971, heading to a peak position of No. 15. On the R&B chart, the record peaked at No. 7.
Near the other end of the chart at No. 76, we find one of the classic R&B records: “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” by the Dramatics. The first charting single for the group from Detroit, the record was in the early weeks of its climb to No. 9 on the pop chart and No. 3 on the R&B chart. The Dramatics would end up with a total of fourteen singles in or near the Hot 100 and twenty-two singles in the R&B Top 40.
As the U.S. celebrated its Bicentennial in 1976 (the only Independence Day for which I have a concrete memory: It was a Sunday, and I joined my parents for a community commemoration of the day at St. Cloud’s Lake George downtown), the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 was occupied by a single that appropriately mentioned “skyrockets in flight” (though the fireworks on the record came from a markedly different source than the Jaycees’ annual fireworks show): “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band was in the first of two weeks at No. 1; it peaked at No. 5 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
At No. 17 during that Bicentennial celebration was Neil Diamond’s “If You Know What I Mean” from his Beautiful Noise album, which for a few years found its way regularly onto my turntable. (A note to myself: Give it another listen and see how it sounds nearly forty years on). The single, produced – as was the album – by Robbie Robertson, was on its way to No. 11 on the pop chart and No. 1 on the AC chart. The record was the thirty-eighth of an eventual (and remarkable) fifty-six records on or near the pop chart for Diamond.
And our Independence Day observance ends at No. 76 on July 4, 1976: “Crazy on You” by Heart. The Seattle group’s first charting hit, the record was coming down the chart after peaking at No. 35. (A reissue of the single after the band had some hits performed less well, getting only to No. 62 in early 1978.) Heart was, of course, an regular chart presence during into the 1990s, with a total of thirty-two records in or near the Hot 100. (I should note that the linked video is the track as it appeared on the album Dreamboat Annie; I think the single eliminated the acoustic intro.)