(Above: The late Wayne Thomas – GR’s Ron Britain, right down to singing the weather forecast.)
Fifty years ago the country was preparing for a change in government – Richard Nixon had just been elected the 37th President of the United States. In Southern Illinois a couple that was married five months ago was preparing for a change in their house – their first-born, a son, would be arriving in March. (He would later go on to play radio, write a blog, and teach college students how to play radio.)
For a look at the charts, I decided to skip the national chart and look at what was big in Grand Rapids. The battle in GR in 1968, at least on the AM dial, was – as it usually was – between WGRD and WLAV. We’ll look at the WGRD chart because, as I think you will find, it’s a little surprising.
What’s coming up the charts? The “hitbound” records this week include Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, which I think you have heard of. There’s also the Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 version of “Scarborough Fair,” which I have been known to crank louder than I should in my car, and The 1910 Fruitgum Company’s “Goody Goody Gumdrops,” which I have not. Interestingly, this three-song sample sums up the whole list in many ways.
But what are the big hits? Let’s get to the chart and count ’em up:
30. Johnny Rivers – “Right Relations“ (last week also #30). I had to look this one up, I’ll admit – it didn’t pop into my head. It’s not a bad song, and it certainly didn’t chart this high nationally.
29. Betty Wright – “He’s Bad Bad Bad.” (added this week) One thing you can say about WGRD charts from this period is that they are surprisingly integrated – at least more than you would expect a Top 40-formatted chart to look like in a sleepy white Midwestern town. This is an example of that.
28. The Magic Lanterns – “Shame Shame.” (added this week) This is one that I used as a “secret weapon” when I programmed Oldies. It’s just too darned good not to play.
27. The New Colony Six – “Come and Give Your Love To Me” (Added this week.) Sure, they were a Chicago band, but you’d expect a station in the shadows of WLS and WCFL to play them. You might not expect this one, though, which neither station appeared to report on their charts.
26. Bobby Vinton – “I Love How You Love Me” (#26). They did seem to love the Polish Prince in Grand Rapids, too.
25. The Strangeloves – “Honey Do” (added this week). Another one that didn’t do well nationally, but it’s a fun record.
24. Aretha Franklin – “See Saw” (added this week). Like I said, this chart’s got a lot of soul.
23. Barbara Acklin – “Just Ain’t No Love“ (added this week). I’d listen to this station all day. What else do we have?
22. The Classics IV – “Stormy” (#27). I think it’s the law that if you program Oldies, you must play this one once a day. It’s not bad; it fits that sort of “mayonnaise” category. I can’t imagine anyone getting up to turn it off, which is why you hear it as often as you do.
21. Neil Diamond – “Sunday Sun“ (#25). I can’t tell you the last time that I heard this song, and I can’t come up with a good reason for why that is. I would love to hear a DJ backsell it as “From the album Velvet Gloves and Spit,” though.
20. Southwest F.O.B – “Smell of Incense“ (#15). Obligatory pot song. Hell, it’s gonna be legal in Michigan soon, so perhaps this needs to make a comeback?
19. The Shadows of Knight – “Shake“ (#14). Another Chicago-area band – this track did get a lot of airplay on WLS and WCFL. Interestingly, though, WGRD added it about the same time as WCFL and before WLS.
18. Steppenwolf – “Magic Carpet Ride” (#9). I’m realizing that there are some real interesting segue possibilities on this list.
17. Derek – “Cinnamon” (#18). Fun fact: Derek and Johnny Cymbal are the same guy. This is still a fun song, if a little bubble-gummy.
16. Clarence Carter – “Too Weak To Fight“ (#20). I need to double-check something. This is WGRD in Grand Rapids, Michigan, right? I’m gaining an appreciation for the term “Northern Soul,” since there’s a lot of fantastic offerings on this playlist.
15. Eddie Floyd – “Bring It On Home To Me“ (#12). As above. This one’s a classic that I should be hearing more often.
14. Glen Campbell – “Wichita Lineman“ (#29). While all the soul shots are terrific, I’ll always stop on a Jimmy Webb song and turn it up.
13. The Royal Guardsmen – “Baby, Let’s Wait“ (#22). If you only know them for the various Snoopy records, you should give this one a listen.
12. Johnny Nash – “Hold Me Tight” (#6). I always preferred this to “I Can See Clearly Now,” despite that one being the bigger hit.
11. The Archies – “Bang-Shang-A-Lang” (#7). Is it OK to admit to liking this record? Asking for a friend.
10. Judy Collins – “Both Sides Now“ (#11). This one I’ll admit to liking and I don’t care who knows it. The line “But now it’s just another show/You leave ’em laughing, then you go/And if you care, don’t let it show” always stuck with me in my days in radio.
9. Diana Ross and the Supremes – “Love Child” (#8). The words “tenement slum” never sounded so catchy.
8. The Beatles – “Hey Jude/Revolution” (#5). You get two for the price of one here, as many radio stations did. I imagine that the option was there for the jocks to not play all seven minutes of “Hey Jude” if they had extra ads to air.
7. Tommy James & the Shondells – “Do Something To Me” (#10). Tommy is from Niles, MI, but that’s a little too far for the home field advantage here. WLS was about done with this record, and WCFL never reported it.
6. Johnnie Taylor – “Who’s Making Love“ (#21). Big move this week for a great record, even if the subject matter is a little scandalous.
5. Leapy Lee – “Little Arrows“ (#4). Now I want to hear a countdown show so that I can hear this and Johnnie Taylor back-to-back. It would be like watching a car accident.
4. Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus – “Quick Joey Small” (#19). These are the types of songs I expected to see on this chart, and I am not surprised. I also don’t need to hear this one again.
3. Mary Hopkin – “Those Were the Days“ (#1). Any time I hear this record I think of an episode of Cheers where the gang all turns up at Frazier and Lilith’s place. She sends him downstairs to throw them out, and he leads them in a singalong of this. I cannot find that clip but would love to see it again.
2. Dion – “Abraham, Martin, and John” (#2). For all the “fifty years ago” nostalgia, we should be mindful that 1968 was a damned tough year for America.
And the new #1 song this week – The Ohio Express “Chewy Chewy” (#3). The mix of bubblegum and smooth soul on this chart is what fascinates me. There’s something for everyone, and at the same time someone’s unhappy every minute. That might become my new definition of classic Top 40, since it seems appropriate here.