Chart Digging: Early August 1971

It was about this time forty years ago that I got my first television. I got it from my co-worker and pal Mike, with whom I was scrubbing and polishing floors at St. Cloud State. That wasn’t a bad gig. It was certainly better than the lawn-mowing assignment I’d had – and not done so well with – at the beginning of the summer.

I think Mike and I worked the standard daytime shift about half of the time we were together that summer, cleaning floors in classroom buildings. The rest of the time, when we were working on buildings that housed mostly offices, we’d work from four in the afternoon to about half-past midnight. Either way, it wasn’t a horribly difficult assignment: Clear a room of its furniture, use a mop to spread detergent on the floor and then clean the floor with the electric scrubber. Rinse-mop the floor, and then use a third mop to spread floor wax. Polish the dried floor wax with a soft pad on the scrubber.

There was a lot of down time: After the rinse and after spreading the wax, we had to wait for the floor to dry. In a classroom building, we might be working on two, maybe three classrooms at a time: Mike would scrub floors, and I’d rinse-mop behind him, then I would wax and he would polish. But even working as efficiently as possible, there would be times when we’d have to wait for drying floors. And we were young – I was seventeen and Mike was maybe twenty-two – and there was sometimes more chit-chat and laughter than efficiency.

Along the way, we became friends, for that summer and for the next few years. Mike was going to school part-time and I worked as a janitor a couple hours a day for the next year; our paths crossed frequently.

(During the fall of 1971, we ended up in the same basic African history course. I don’t know how he did in the class, but I failed it, not yet having any clue how to really study. A few years later, as I wandered along a corridor in Stewart Hall, where the history department had its offices, I met the professor whose class I’d failed. I greeted him, and he smiled back. “I don’t remember your name,” he said, “but I remember the face.” I reminded him who I was and told him I’d taken his basic course a while back. He nodded. “Yes,” he said. “You were kind of a bullshit artist, weren’t you?” I could only laugh and acknowledge that he was right.)

Anyway, Mike and I spent hours that summer waiting for floors and wax to dry, and among the things we ended up talking about was his new color television. He had an older one – black and white – that he was going to sell. He asked if I wanted it. I offered twenty bucks, and he took it. So one night as he took me home after our shift – I didn’t yet have a car, and Mike didn’t mind going a bit out of his way – we stopped at his place and picked up the television.

I put it in my room, and a few days later, my dad and I hooked the set up to the rooftop antenna. My television watching back then was mostly sports (some things never change, I guess), and I watched a lot of pro football on that set. But it also became a routine for me in the late evening to watch the local news and then the opening half-hour of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. I’d lie on my bed, propped up on pillows piled against the wall, and listen to Carson’s monologue and then watch his opening bit, usually a comedy routine using long-time sidekick Ed McMahon as his foil. If there were a musical guest I was interested in, I might stay up until just before midnight to catch that performance, but that was infrequent.

Given the omnipresence of media today – the house I’m in has two computers, four televisions, five CD players with radios, three clock radios, an iPod and two other mp3 players, for two people – I find it quaint that a black and white television provides some of my fondest memories. But it does. A couple years later, I spent a portion of a grey Danish Sunday feeling lost and homesick. So I started listing the little things I was missing about life back home. Third on the list was watching Johnny Carson on my TV.

Having a television didn’t mean I stopped listening to the radio, though. And almost all of the records in the Billboard Top Ten that came out during the first week of August 1971 are greatly familiar:

“How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees
“Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” by the Raiders
“You’ve Got A Friend” by James Taylor
“Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight
“Draggin’ the Line” by Tommy James
“Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver
“It’s Too Late/I Feel The Earth Move” by Carole King
“Beginnings/Colour My World” by Chicago
“What the World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin and John” by Tom Clay
“Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye

Tom Clay’s entry is listed in Top Pop Singles as a spoken word piece; I’d call it a sound collage instead. It pulls together audio bits from the major events of the 1960s and lays them over a medley of the two songs listed in the title. I don’t know that I’d ever heard the piece until I went looking for it this morning. And that’s despite the fact that the KDWB 6+30 from forty years ago today has the record at No. 1. (Across the Twin Cities at WDGY, the Tom Clay single was not listed. I can only assume that it got little airplay on St. Cloud’s WJON, too.)

As interesting at Clay’s work might be, our business – as it almost always does – lies in the lower depths of the Billboard Hot 100. We’ll start at the very bottom and work our way up.

The names of producers and occasional performers Terry Cashman (Dennis Minogue) and Tommy West (Tommy Picardo) – with and without the addition of Eugene Pistilli – pop up frequently on records of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Top Pop Singles lists nine singles by various combinations of the three that either reached the Hot 100 or bubbled under. The best performing of the records came from Cashman & West, whose “American City Suite” went to No. 27 in 1972. In the early days of August 1971, recording as Morning Mist, Cashman and West had “California On My Mind” on the charts. As of the August 7 chart, the record was at No. 100. It would peak at No. 96.

I’ve mentioned this at least once before, but it still baffles me that the Fifties revival group Sha Na Na was considered good enough and hip enough to perform at Woodstock in 1969. I dunno. Maybe I haven’t listened enough to the group, but I find myself not at all interested in finding even the group’s earliest albums. I guess if I want Fifties rock ’n’ roll and doo-wop, I’ll go to the originals. One of the oddest items in the group’s catalog, though, has to be “Top Forty (Of The Lord),” which was sitting at No. 90 during the first week of August 1971. A country-ish encouragement of the Christian good life with a radio-friendly hook, the record would peak at No. 84.

John Kongos’ record “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” is another tune that I’d never heard until this morning, and I regret that very much. I’m not entirely sure what the song is about, but its dense, complex sound had to have been unlike most anything else in the charts forty years ago, when it was at No. 70. The only Hot 100 hit for the South African singer/songwriter (“Tokoloshe Man” bubbled under at No. 111 in 1972), it went no higher on the charts. Wikipedia notes that Kongos’ record has been “cited by the Guinness Book of Records as being the first ever song to have used a sample.” The entry goes on to note, however, that “according to the sleeve note of the CD reissue of the Kongos album, it is actually a tape loop of African drumming; and the use of tape loops and instruments using prerecorded samples such as the Mellotron and Optigan were well established by this time.”

Some time ago, when I listed the albums I turn to on bad days, I included Stephen Stills’ self-titled first album, a record I still play frequently. His second, imaginatively called Stephen Stills 2, had much the same sound and – I think – quality of performance, but I’ve never found myself turning to it as much as I do the first. Seeing Stills’ “Change Partners” sitting at No. 67 in the Hot 100 from forty years ago this week – it had earlier peaked at No. 43 – reminds me that I should reacquaint myself with that second album and see if it needs to be placed in a more frequent rotation.

During the summer of 1971, I would hear Bobby Russell’s “Saturday Morning Confusion” coming from the radio speakers and smile at the depiction of suburban domestic chaos. I don’t know that I ever caught the subtext that the narrating dad had tipped a couple too many on the way home from work the evening before and was paying for it with a hangover headache on the Saturday morning in question. It doesn’t matter, I guess. The record, which was at No. 60 and would peak at No. 28 (No. 24 on the country chart), remains an affectionate look at one slice of American life ca. 1971.

One more record that rings no bells from the summer of 1971 is the deliriously fun “Resurrection Shuffle” from British pop trio Ashton, Gardner & Dyke. I know I listened to radio when I was at home, and some of that had to be on KDWB from the Twin Cities. I listened to WJON at night, after KDWB’s signal had been powered down (jb at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ provided a primer the other day on powering down and related topics), but KDWB was almost certainly my daytime choice. How is it, then, that I do not recall “Resurrection Shuffle,” which went to No. 40 nationwide but was at No. 13 on KDWB’s chart forty years ago today? Well, it doesn’t matter. I know the record now. Here’s Ashton, Gardner & Dyke performing the tune on the British television show Top of the Pops, a show I’d gladly have watched on my new used television.

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4 Responses to “Chart Digging: Early August 1971”

  1. jb says:

    “Resurrection Shuffle” was the hottest thing on the radio in August 1971. It was something like #3 on WLS, and I would have bought the 45 sometime in late July or early August. In this video, Tony Ashton forgets the words, although it doesn’t matter much: what’s “brow-beatin’ heavy-leather resurrection beat” anyhow?

  2. porky says:

    What a great record (Res. Shuffle). I was surprised by its #40 showing but I grew up on WLS and heard the daylights out of this song.

    It, like “Double Barrel” and “The Isrealites” played into the daring notion that the lyrics were dirty, stuff custom-made for pre-teens.

  3. Paco Malo says:

    I was crazy about those Stephen Stills solo albums back then, right through to his forming of the short-lived band “Manassas” — I loved “Johnny’s Garden” from that album. And I remember “Changing Partners” well. I didn’t understand dance cards at the time so I had a song that I loved that taught me a little something about “hooking up” from a more innocent era.

    One more thought: The first time I saw Little Richard was on Carson. Boy did I learn something that night!

  4. Yah Shure says:

    “California On My Mind” epitomized the melodic, more-adult, soft-rock stuff I only heard on Drake-Chenault’s syndicated ‘Hit Parade’ format. Unfortunately, their Twin Cities affiliate, KEEY-FM, had just dropped ‘Hit Parade ’71’ a month or two earlier. Most record labels didn’t include low-charting summer releases in their fall catch-up “care packages,” so we didn’t have the 45 to play at the college station when the new academic year began in September. It wasn’t until I found the track on a cutout compilation album some three years later that I first heard what was an instantly-likable tune.

    Someone at Elektra Records must have really believed in John Kongos. The label reissued “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” with “Tokoloshe Man” as its B-side in late September of ’72 on Elektra 45809. My promo copy followed a rather circuitous route: WJON donated some of its reject 45s to the St. Cloud State Reformatory’s inmate station, STIR (St. Cloud Inmate Radio) and many of the singles STIR also opted not to play ended up in a used record store near the U of M in Minneapolis. It wasn’t until I worked at WJON that I finally discovered what the hand-stamped or written “STIR” on the records’ labels had signified.

    Speaking of Radio 12, I happen to have WJON’s on-air copy of “Resurrection Shuffle” in my collection. Judging by its old-style green sleeve with the deeply-scalloped top, it was probably one of the “retired” flashback 45s Program Director Mike Diem gave me when I began doing my nightly oldies show in 1980. To this day, I associate the record with KDWB, where I’d first heard it.

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