Blame it on the times, not lack of taste
Some classic tunes struggled to get airplay
Those of us who engaged in pre-1980s radio – either on the air or as listeners – are often confronted by younger radio fans who can’t believe the number of today’s classic tunes that weren’t big hits at the time. Was our taste in music really that off-kilter?
I think not, but you’d never know it by these oversights:
• Two standards from the 1950s – “Since I Don’t Have You” and “I Only Have Eyes For You” – never topped the charts.
• The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” and the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” were also-rans in the ’60s.
• “Born To Run” and “Piano Man” were never Top 10 hits in the ’70s.
It’s folly, of course, to accuse either radio stations or their listeners of lack of taste. Blame it on the times, if you must. In the ’50s, songs bounced up and down the charts in a matter of a few weeks, and music was very regionalized. Songs that hit No. 1 in Pittsburgh might not be played elsewhere until weeks later, if at all. Only songs that were played everywhere at the same time had a shot at the Top 10.
“I Saw Her Standing There” and “God Only Knows” were flip sides to “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,“ respectively, and since record labels made sure their “A” side got the most airplay, dozens of excellent “B” sides languished on the charts.
By the ’70s, AM and FM had established their own stars, and at the time, both Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel were core “FM” artists and not considered AM (Top 40) material.
Sometimes, of course, a good song missed the Top 10 simply because the songs ahead of it were even better.
Every year, disc jockey and music columnist Rich Appel conducts a survey, timed to tax day, to determine I.R.S. (It Really Shoulda) songs that missed the Top 10. Originally, those who filled out the I.R.S. form were primarily music industry folk. Now, music fans are getting involved as well.
Appel says he’s amazed that, no matter the makeup of the “filers,” most of the same songs land in the Top 104 each time. “It’s a testament to how terrific these recordings are,” Appel said, “and how much they deserved to be larger hits. At the same time, I’m also amazed at the large turnover of songs and how each new group of filers finds different nontop 10 hits to champion each time out.”
In addition to the original broadcast of the Top 104 on Rewound Radio in April, the list was featured on three other radio shows across the United States and streamed on the Internet as well.
Appel offered these thoughts on this year’s survey:
Q. Why do you think it’s difficult to get those submitting forms to recognize music of the ’80s (or even ’70s)? Is it the age of the voters?
A. It’s very telling that of the 1,040 ranked songs, only 117 were released in 1980 or later. And just three made it to the Top 104. That was still better than last year, when none did. This was also the first year I established a presence in as many ’80s-based Facebook groups as possible.
You hit the nail on the problem: It’s age. Even though many ’80s music fans may now be in their 40s, taking time to submit a list of songs isn’t a real high priority in their busy lives – at least not yet. Also, most of the songs from that era are still on the radio, so there’s less of a passion for getting them on a countdown like this.
But I think we’ll see some movement on this soon, given all the songs getting close to making the cut, such as the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese,” Benny Mardones’ “Into The Night” or “Ah! Leah!” from local boy Donnie Iris.
Q. You were spot on with your comment on why at least some of the songs didn’t make the Top 10 in the ’60s – some regionalized hits spread at their own pace.
A. On this year’s broadcast of the I.R.S. Top 104, we included pieces of interviews with artists like Orpheus, Gunhill Road and the New Colony Six. All told stories of how label distribution and promotion didn’t necessarily work in their favor. There were station appearances where program directors would tell acts, “We can’t play your record because no one can buy it. It isn’t in the stores.” Also, because it was the age of the two-sided 45, a label could have chosen the other side to promote until someone at radio was smart enough to flip it over. That happened with “Things I’d Like To Say.” The New Colony Six’s Ronnie Rice told the story about how legendary Chicago DJ Larry Lujack suggested that side instead of the original A side as the hit. And eventually, the record was flipped by radio stations nationwide.
Q. Do these “shoulda beens” have a common thread?
A. During the years when both singles sales and airplay were crucial to chart position, a great song by an album-based act was more likely to struggle. Nowhere on the I.R.S. Top 104 is there a better example of this than “Born To Run.” The Boss aside, though, most of the songs that make the Top 104 each year are straight-ahead pop songs that simply suffered from heavy competition at Top 40 at the time.
This year, the Flirtations’ 1969 song, “Nothing But a Heartache” topped the chart. While it wasn’t a flip side and was in no danger of being played by FM stations, the Flirtations were on a small record label, and the record spread slowly around the country. It reached No. 5 on KQV that May. In this area, at least, “Heartache” has become an oldies staple. The same can’t be said for No. 2 “Can’t Find the Time,” which evidently bypassed the ’Burgh on its way to becoming a classic.
1. “Nothing But a Heartache” – The Flirtations
2. “Can’t Find the Time” – Orpheus
3. “Will You Be Staying After Sunday” – The Peppermint Rainbow
4. “Shame, Shame” – The Magic Lanterns
5. “Morning Girl” – The Neon Philharmonic
6. “Mr. Dieingly Sad” – The Critters
7. “God Only Knows” – The Beach Boys
8. “Things I’d Like to Say” – The New Colony Six
9. “Pretty Lady” – Lighthouse
10. “Yellow River” – Christie
11. “Born to Run” – Bruce Springsteen
12. “Pretty Ballerina” – The Left Banke
13. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
14. “No Milk Today” – Herman’s Hermits
15. “Taxi” – Harry Chapin
16. “Solitary Man” – Neil Diamond
17. “You’ve Got to be Loved” – The Montanas
18. “Soul Coaxing (Ame Caline)” – Raymond Lefebvre
19. “Friday on My Mind” – The Easybeats
20. “Out in the Country” – Three Dog Night