Counting down the year’s best, with a transistor radio in hand
Where were you in 1962? If it was Dec. 31, and you were a teen, you most likely were hugging a transistor radio to your ear, anxiously awaiting the countdown of the year’s top songs.
For days, we had engaged in often-heated discussions over tuna boats or pizza patties in the school cafeteria. Would No. 1 be “Duke of Earl,” or “Sherry” or “Soldier Boy”? Would either of the local boys gone big-time – Lou Christie and Bobby Vinton – make the chart? Who would have the most songs on the list? We had consulted with friends, placed bets, traded predictions and crossed our fingers. Now the big day was here. With No. 2 pencil in hand, and an arsenal of Christmas cookies nearby, we flipped on the radio. The marathon had begun.
The countdown could be found on two stations in this area – KQV or KDKA. For sheer thrills, the choice was KQV, where the Top 40 tunes were painstakingly revealed by Chuck Brinkman in precision-like manner. I can still hear it now. “This song spent two weeks at the top of the charts in July and 11 weeks on our survey. It’s his 11th song to ever make our year-end countdown. Ladies and gentlemen ...” With the disc jockey’s voice becoming perceptibly lower and more serious, he entered the all-important Top 10.
While KDKA played its songs in random order, the list was more in-depth, spotlighting more than 100 45s, some of them flip sides of the national hits. The biggest hits were saved for Clark Race, who always shared juicy tidbits about the songs with his listeners. As the rollout began, disc jockeys would compare the local year-end position with the national Billboard charts. For some of us, it was the first time we realized that Pittsburgh hits didn’t always find a national audience. And we weren’t happy about it ...
If you’re smiling, you’re of a certain age – an age before cable, internet, video games, malls, important New Year’s Eve dances and very important football and hockey games took over Dec. 31. If you’re scratching your head, it’s because banging pots and pans together at midnight was never your second-most exciting activity on New Year’s Eve. After the countdown, of course.
I was able to locate my own handwritten KQV list from 1962, but could not find one from KDKA. I am certain they broadcast a countdown, though, if only because of the controversy that ensued when we returned to junior high. KQV’s No. 1 song was “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” while KDKA’s top tune was “Roses Are Red.” Neither merited much praise from our rather rowdy group, which would have preferred some parent-annoying bait such as “He’s A Rebel” or “The Stripper” at the top.
“The Stripper,” which did make the local list at No. 23, was one of dozens of instrumentals that scored big in 1962. In fact, about one of every five Top 20 hits did so without a need for lyrics. Making the local Top 40, in addition to “The Stripper,” were “Stranger on the Shore,” “Rinky Dink,” “Telstar” and “Alley Cat.” Sadly, of more than 20 instrumentals that made the national Top 100, only “Alley Cat” has endured, primarily as a group dance song that decades later, was usurped by the similar “Electric Slide.”
Several other 1962 hits became wedding reception fodder as well, as dance tunes dominated a chart led by the second coming of “The Twist,” (it was also a hit in 1960). “The Locomotion,” “Mashed Potato” and “Limbo Rock” made the year’s Top 40, along with variations of the Chubby Checker dance craze, including “Dear Lady Twist,” “Slow Twistin,” “Peppermint Twist” and “Twist and Shout.” (For the record, a full 10 percent of the Top 100 songs has the word “twist” in the title.”)
Oddly enough – and this qualifies as extremely odd – “The Twist” did not make KQV’s year-end list, except as a notation that it was the nationwide No. 1 song in the country.
KQV’s list had other oddities, too. Two songs tied at No. 13 for no apparent reason – “Stranger on the Shore” and Connie Francis’ “Don’t Break the Heart.” Also, at least five of the more memorable songs from 1962 were nowhere to be found, most notably Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The others were “The Twist,” ‘The Wanderer,” ‘You Belong to Me,” and “Surfin’ Safari.”
Perhaps Brinkman – who wasn’t shy about letting listeners know that he alone compiled the list – was more keen on including hits that fared better locally than nationwide – “The Gypsy Cried” by Lou Christie, “I’m Blue” by the Ikettes and “Tell Me” by Dick and Dee Dee, for instance.
What a difference five decades makes. At least two of the Top 10 songs from 1962 now draw a collective “huh?” from many music fans. “Johnny Angel” and “Let Me In” have faded into obscurity for many, while songs that barely made the Top 100 - “Breaking Up is Hard To Do,” “Sealed with a Kiss” and “Moon River.” - have survived nicely via remakes, TV commercials or inclusion in movies.
Yet there’s only one selection from that year that truly remains familiar to kids from one to 92. It’s a novelty tune from a one-hit wonder that wasn’t even an original idea – it was purposely “borrowed” from a dance number called the “Mashed Potato.”
The song? Bobby Boris Pickett’s “Monster Mash.”
KQV’s Top 10 of 1962
1. I Can’t Stop Loving You – Ray Charles
2. Duke of Earl – Gene Chandler
3. Big Girls Don’t Cry – The Four Seasons
4. Roses are Red – Bobby Vinton
5. Twist & Shout – Isley Brothers
6. Locomotion – Little Eva
7. Johnny Angel – Shelley Fabares
8. Soldier Boy – The Shirelles
9. Let Me In – The Sensations
10. Sherry – The Four Seasons