(Of course he does.)
The last week of January, 1978 saw me as a fourth-grader at Helen Keller School in Tinley Park, Illinois. I was still about a year and a half away from “playing radio” in Mr. Johnston’s sixth-grade class. I would have been about two months away from receiving my first stereo system – a compact system that allowed me to tape songs off the radio with better quality than holding my portable JCPenney recorder up to the speaker and hoping for the best. Since money for buying records wasn’t available to me at the age of eight, this was the way to get new music outside of the occasional trip to Venture to buy one, maybe two 45s at a time.
Listening to WLS was how I knew what was popular. The WLS tower is in Tinley Park, so we often got the station in the telephone. Reception was not a problem, no matter how primitive the radio set an eight-year-old got access to.
Admittedly, I know the music of the ’70s well, but I’d struggle if you asked me to put everything on the correct weekly chart without a reference. I’ve spent far more time with the charts of the 1960s and have a better handle on them, and the 1980s contained far more formative experiences in my life that have songs connected to them. So, this trip down the chart may have surprises for me in terms of “what goes with what.” I expect a few more surprises as well as pop in early 1978 is a little eclectic. Let’s see what the “Forty-fives” section of the chart reveals:
45. Rita Coolidge, “We’re All Alone.” Pretty sure I wouldn’t have taped this one.
44. Bill Withers, “Lovely Day.” An eight year old doesn’t dig this track. A forty-eight year old does. We have our first “oh, wow” of the list.
43. Heatwave, “Always and Forever.” It’s a slow dance! Somewhere I have the “Too Hot To Handle” LP packed away.
42. Jay Ferguson, “Thunder Island.” I’ve had this one in rotation for years. I remember playing it on WJEQ more often than would have been expected for a 12-year-old record.
41. Steely Dan, “Peg.” Another example of a band that’s not for kids.
40. Fleetwood Mac, “You Make Loving Fun.” This is shaping up to look like a decent classic hits station playlist.
39. Odyssey, “Native New Yorker.” This one I admit I forgot about. So much for the classic hits playlist. Do I detect a disco beat in there? I think I do.
38. Meco, “Star Wars.” This is a 45 that I know at least one of my friends had, and we’d listen to. For a disco Star Wars, I much prefer Nick Winters’ version.
37. Shaun Cassidy, “That’s Rock and Roll.” Yeah, I had this one. We all had Cassidy records at this point. They’re not THAT bad, and they got me to dig for original versions as I got older, so it wasn’t all for naught.
36. LTD, “Back In Love Again.” Soul Train is something that wasn’t on in my house, so I would have picked up on this one much later.
35. Chic, “Dance Dance Dance.” Yowsa, yowsa, yowsa. We loved this stupid record.
34. Samantha Sang, “Emotion.” Yes, that’s the Bee Gees on backup vocal.
33. High Inergy, “You Can’t Turn Me Off (In the Middle Of Turning Me On).” You forgot this one too, didn’t you? This isn’t a bad record, and a definite “oh, wow.” It made #12 on the pop chart, which leads me to believe we should be hearing it more often than
never. I’ll also bet that the full title wasn’t given on air.
32. Lynyrd Skynyrd, “What’s Your Name?” Not far removed from the October 1977 plane crash that killed three members of the group, it’s moving up the chart this week. It also makes for a great segue with the last one, doesn’t it? Ah, AM Top 40….
31. Wings, “Girls’ School.” This one’s better known for its B-side, “Mull of Kintyre,” which was #1 in the UK for nine weeks. This side stalled at #33 here, and probably should have done a little better than that.
30. Elvis Presley, “My Way.” I think stations were obligated to play this after Elvis’ death. It was, for a while, the last Top 40 hit for the King, until the re-release of “Guitar Man” charted in 1981.
29. Heatwave. “Boogie Nights.” That’s two for them, right?
28. Babys, “Isn’t It Time.” I completely missed this one in 1978 but made up for it in college radio. We had a copy of the band’s Anthology LP and played most of it to death.
27. Debby Boone, “You Light Up My Life.” This is a single that was given to me at some point the year before. I defer to a bit that John Landecker did on the WLS rewind a few years ago: “It Sucked Then, and It Sucks Now.”
26. Linda Ronstadt, “Blue Bayou.” Personally, I prefer Roy Orbison’s record and Linda’s album covers.
25. Neil Diamond, “Desiree.” My house featured a lot of Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, and Wally Phillips in the morning on WGN. I forget that my parents were only 31 years old at the time of this chart, since from a pop-culture standpoint in our house you’d have thought they were much older than that. Getting an FM radio in my room later that year exposed me to much cooler stuff.
24. John Williams, “Close Encounters Of the Third Kind.” I had this 45, but never saw the movie until adulthood. It’s not the type of song you need hear more than once a decade.
23. Linda Ronstadt, “It’s So Easy.” Same as #26 but with Buddy Holly.
22. Dan Hill, “Sometimes When We Touch.” This is a song that at eight I’d turn off, and in high school I’d be looking for someone to dance with to it right before turning it off.
21. Andy Gibb, “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water.” Because we were assholes in college, we answered the phone “Andy Gibb is dead” every time it rang the day he died. But there’s no denying that he sold a ton of records, and this one’s pretty decent.
20. Santa Esmerelda, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Wow. I completely forgot about this record. I looked it up to refresh my memory, played it, and then played it again. Sometimes the cover is pretty darned good.
19. Bay City Rollers, “The Way I Feel Tonight.” I liked “Saturday Night” a lot, “You Made Me Believe in Magic” a little, and that was about it. In 1978 girls were still yucky to me, which explains a little of that. Were I a year or two older I probably would have thought differently about this record.
18. Foreigner, “Long Long Way From Home.” This is one of those “if I had a nickel for each time I played it, I could retire” records. Yet I cannot remember ever getting a request for it. Did we play it more than people wanted?
17. Crystal Gayle, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Crossover country amidst rock, disco, soul, etc. The old Top 40 was a thing of beauty. (So was Crystal, for that matter.)
16. Paul Simon, “Slip Slidin’ Away.” To the list of “things my parents played in the house” I should add this. The Greatest Hits, Etc. 8-track lived in the console stereo in the living room (pronounced “frunchroom”) and I fired it up more than once.
15. Bob Welch, “Sentimental Lady.” I may have played this once at WCFL/Morris and just yelled “Hey laaaady” over the intro. Sorry.
14. Paul Nicholas, “Heaven On the 7th Floor.” Another oh wow, and I remember liking this record, even if I didn’t fully understand what it was about.
13. Electric Light Orchestra, “Turn To Stone.” Like Steely Dan, a band I didn’t appreciate fully until much later in life.
12. Styx, “Come Sail Away.” It was required to play Styx records in Chicago, but some of them were darned good. For this song I defer back several years ago to the “lip dub” craze, where people did lip sync versions of songs in one take. This one was done by students at Grand Valley. If you’ve ever wondered what my campus looks like (or used to look like before a lot of construction), here you go.
11. Kansas, “Point of Know Return.” This part of the chart sounds like WERV/Aurora when I was programming it in 2002.
10. Bee Gees, “Stayin’ Alive.” It’s on the way up the charts this week. I am sure you know how it goes.
9. Billy Joel, “Just the Way You Are.” One of the many songs from The Stranger, an album that I loved. In my head, though, this is a routine from the “Son of Svengoolie” television show during the 1980 election about voting for Tombstone, the skull with the moustache that would appear. If you have this clip, please send it to me so I can get the song out of my head. “Don’t go voting… for Ron or Jimmy….”
8. Bee Gees (again). “How Deep Is Your Love.” Younger readers of this blog: Saturday Night Fever was, in fact, the cultural force that you read that it was.
7. Shaun Cassidy, “Hey Deanie.” I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t know the words to this. You’d be lying if you said that you didn’t watch The Hardy Boys.
6. Leif Garrett, “Runaround Sue.” This was what got me looking for “real” oldies as opposed to teen singers covering them. A few Shaun records was one thing; this and Leif’s version of “Surfin’ USA” pushed me to Saturday night oldies shows on FM.
5. Player, “Baby Come Back.” Don’t they use this now to sell mops or something?
4. Dolly Parton, “Here You Come Again.” The record that firmly put Dolly Parton in the mainstream, and that put jokes about boobs on the lips of fourth graders. It’s still a damned fine record.
3. Rod Stewart, “You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim).” It was tough to discover Rod Stewart in the late 70s, lest you think he was “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” and “Young Turks.” There was much more to work with, I learned, once I dug into the back catalog, and was happy that I did.
2. Randy Newman, “Short People.” I had this 45. I loved this song. I played it a lot. Does this get released today? Probably not. I remember a mini-controversy about the song’s message, as people completely missed the bridge about “living as brothers.” Sing with me: “They got little cars that go beep beep beep.”
And, at #1 again this week: Queen, “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” You have to play them both, of course. I remember the
Chrysalis Elektra single with the big caterpillar on it. I know I had it, and I think I lent it away, since I don’t think I have it now. Whoever has my copy: Forty years is a long time, dontcha think?
5 thoughts on “Forty years ago in Chicago: The WLS Survey, January 28, 1978”
FIrst, I love this blog. I just found it a few weeks ago and have been slowly working my way backwards to read everything.
Second, and this is really not important, but the Queen single was on Elektra, not Chrysalis. I only caught that because I read your description and thought “yeah, when I was a kid, my 45 had that caterpillar on it as well…wait, wasn’t that Elektra?”
Keep up the great work.
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You are correct. It was Elektra, and why that caterpillar was there, I don’t know. Edited. Thanks for coming by!
That album chart is worth a look too, with two Shaun Cassidy LPs in the local Top Ten.
Shaun was making Eric Carmen some money that month, with not one but two of Carmen’s songs getting lots of airplay.
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I heard a sermon once, where the preacher told us how rough it was when he was a kid because he was very short.
Then, he says, a certain song came out. I knew what it was, and I turned to my 5 foot zero wife and told her she wasn’t going to like the song. She didn’t.
He also said he was forever grateful to Debby Boone for keeping the song at number two. While it spent a few weeks at number two on the billboard hot 100, it wasn’t Debby that was at number one.