Friday, December 16, 2011

The 25 Biggest Christmas Singles of the Early '70

I've ranked the entries in this roundup of early seventies Christmas hits according to their initial Billboard U.S. chart positions and also their longevity in terms of repeat visits to the charts in subsequent years. To qualify, they all had to have charted for the very first time between 1970 and 1974. Bobby Helms and Charles Brown are here, therefore, because they charted with re-recorded versions of their own Christmas classics during that time. The Singing Dogs' 1955 "Jingle Bells" is here because it first charted as an A-side in 1971. Another rule: They had to have first charted during the Christmas season.

Many an early seventies trend can be seen here: proto-adult contemporary, singer-songwriters, downbeat realism, a preoccupation with children, progressive country, novelty songs, and more.

In accordance with Christmas numerology, I've made all of my comments in exactly 25 words.

1. The Carpenters - "Merry Christmas Darling" (Billboard Christmas 1970 #1, 1971 #1, 1972 #4, 1973 #1). Written by Frank Pooler. Produced by Jack Daugherty. 45: "Merry Christmas Darling"/"Mr. Gruder" (A&M 1970).

This touchstone sounds like it could have been released at any time post-1970 and is Exhibit A for today's "lite FM" stations' Christmas sound.

2. Merle Haggard - "If We Make It Through December" (Billboard #28, entered 11/24/73; country #1, Christmas 1973 #7). Written by Merle Haggard. Produced by Ken Nelson. 45: "If We Make It Through December"/"Bobby Wants a Puppy Dog for Christmas" (Capitol 1973). LP: Merle Haggard's Christmas Present (Capitol 1973); If We Make It Through December (Capitol 1974).

With this single, those who regretted Haggard's late sixties jingoism had reason to believe he was possibly back on track as a compassionate social observer.

3. The Jackson 5 - "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" (Billboard Christmas 1970 #1, 1971 #1, 1973 #9). Written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie. Produced by the Corporation and Hal Davis. 45: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town"/"Christmas Won't Be the Same This Year" (Motown 1970). LP: Jackson 5 Christmas Album (Motown 1970).

It's virtually impossible not to hear this antsy, hustle-bustle single as the quintessential topper to an extraordinarily busy two years for the Jackson 5.

4. Elton John - "Step Into Christmas" (Billboard Christmas #1). Written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Produced by Gus Dudgeon. 45: "Step Into Christmas"/"Ho, Ho, Ho (Who'd Be a Turkey at Christmas?)" (MCA 1973).

Still remembering when rock was young, Elton John's "eat, drink, and be merry" foray into good-humored yuletide glitz has always sounded entirely well advised.

5. The Staple Singers - "Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas" (Billboard Christmas 1970 #2). Written by Deanie Parker. Produced by Al Bell. 45: "Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas"/"Who Took the Merry Out of Christmas (Instrumental)" (Stax 1970).

Multi-leveled, ingratiating finger-wagging that's at once a mistitled call for more "Mary" at Christmas and a rather hot-tempered rebuke of the joyless.

6. Charles Brown - "Merry Christmas, Baby" (Billboard Christmas 1973 #2). Written by Johnny Moore and Lou Baxter. 45: "Merry Christmas, Baby"/"Let's Make Every Day a Christmas Day" (King 1968).

Charles Brown's 1968 re-recording for the King label of his 1947 classic didn't chart until 1973, which was an especially fertile year for Christmas singles.

7. The Singing Dogs - "Jingle Bells" (Billboard Christmas 1971 #2). Produced by Don Charles. 45: "Jingle Bells"/"Oh! Susanna" (RCA Victor 1955; 1971).

This first appeared as a 1955 B-side, but crescendoing early '70s nostalgia, which also brought back 1962's "Monster Mash," turned it into a charting A-side.

8. John and Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir - "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" (1971) (Billboard Christmas 1971 #3). Written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Produced by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Phil Spector. 45: "Happy Xmas (Was Is Over)"/"Listen the Snow Is Falling" (Apple 1971). LP: Shaved Fish (Apple 1975).

This single, the ultimate John Lennon/Phil Spector collaboration, manages to be simultaneously sentimental and serious while seamlessly incorporating the shrill voice of Yoko Ono.

9. Cheech and Chong - "Santa Claus and His Old Lady" (Billboard Christmas 1971 #4, 1972 #3, 1973 #3). Written by Cheech and Chong. Produced by Lou Adler. 45: "Santa Claus and His Old Lady"/"Dave" (Ode 1971).

Cheech and Chong's cozy Christmas conversation is their least jarring comedy single and also their funniest. The backing music is as funny as the chatter.

10. Leon Russell - "Slipping Into Christmas" (Billboard Christmas 1972 #4). Written by Leon Russell. Produced by Denny Cordell and Leon Russell. 45: "Slipping Into Christmas"/"Christmas in Chicago" (Shelter 1972).

His bluesy drawl and loping arrangements tended to give Leon Russell's records a uniquely melting-taffy effect. This oddball Christmas single is a perfect example.

11. Bill Withers - "The Gift of Giving" (Billboard Christmas 1972 #5). Written and produced by Bill Withers. "The Gift of Giving"/"Let Us Love" (Sussex 1972).

Few can take a seemingly one-dimensional title like "The Gift of Giving" and imbue it with contrasting layers of melancholy and congeniality like Withers.

12. Bobby Helms - "Jingle Bell Rock" (Billboard Christmas 1970 #5). Written by Joe Beale and Jim Boothe. Produced by Aubrey Mayhew. 45: "Jingle Bell Rock"/"The Old Year Is Gone" (Certron 1970).

This was Helms's fourth charting makeover of his 1957 signature song. Released on the Certron label, it could have been retitled "Jingle Bell Honky Tonk."

13. John Denver - "Please, Daddy" (Billboard #69, entered 12/22/73; Christmas #7, country #69). Written by Billy Danoff and Taffy Nivert. Produced by Milton Okun. 45: "Please, Daddy"/"Rocky Mountain Suite (Cold Nights in Canada)" (RCA 1973). LP: Farewell, Andromeda (RCA 1973).

Denver, a possible model for the yellow '70s smiley face, surprised listeners by sharing a gloomy tale of alcoholism, a la Commander Cody, for Christmas.

14. James Brown - "Santa Claus Is Definitely Here to Stay" (Billboard Christmas #7). Written by Nat Jones. Produced by James Brown. 45: "Santa Claus Is Definitely Here to Stay"/"Santa Claus Is Definitely Here to Stay (Instrumental)" (King 1970). LP: Hey America (King 1970).

The biggest single from Brown's Hey America Christmas album featured him tinkering with Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" in the style of the Impressions.

15. Donny Hathaway - "This Christmas" (Billboard Christmas 1972 #11). Written Nadine McKinnor and Donnie Pitts. Produced by Don-Ric Enterprises. Arranged by Donny Hathaway. 45: "This Christmas"/"Be There" (Atco 1970).

This flash of uptown Christmas brilliance showcases Donny Hathaway as one of the decade's greatest soul singers and a class act. Rest in peace, Donny.

16. Michael Holm - "When a Child Is Born" (Billboard #53, entered 12/14/74; easy listening #7). 45: "When a Child Is Born"/"Other Way Round" (Mercury 1974).

An Italian melody with English lyrics performed by a German singer. Johnny Mathis turned this into a UK smash hit, going number one in 1976.

17. Stan and Doug - "Christmas Goose (Snowbird)" (Billboard Christmas 1970 #7). Written by Gene MacLellan, Stan Boreson, and Doug Setterberg. 45: "Christmas Goose (Snowbird)"/"Christmas Medley" (Golden Crest 1970).

Not to be confused with Bob and Doug MacKenzie, this comedy duo saluted Yogi Yorgeson's Great White North to the tune of Anne Murray's "Snowbird."

18. Charley Pride - "Christmas in My Home Town" (Billboard Christmas 1970 #11). Written by Lassaye Holmes. Produced by Jack Clement. 45: "Christmas in My Home Town"/"Santa and the Kids" (RCA Victor 1970). LP: Christmas in My Home Town (RCA Victor 1970).

Christmas cookie-cutter hokum from country's preeminent African-American, who was on the verge of becoming the Country Music Association's 1971 Entertainer of the Year.

19. Dingo, The Most Lovable Elf of All - "Santa's Little Helper Dingo" (Billboard Christmas 1973 #11). Written and produced by Richard Doyle. 45: "Santa's Little Helper Dingo"/"Santa's Little Helper Dingo (mono)" (Perspective 1973).

Two Billboard ads pushed sales and airplay for this rather tuneless curiosity put together by Richard Doyle, an LA comedian later known as Shamus M'Cool.

20. Commander Cody - "Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas" (Billboard Christmas 1973 #19). Written by John Tichy. Produced by Ozone Productions with Pete Drake. 45: "Daddy's Drinking Up Our Christmas"/ "Honeysuckle Honey" (Dot 1973).

Commander Cody's Christmas single showcases three specific early '70s pop music trends: "progressive country," children's perspectives, and a willingness to wallow in reality (i.e., disappointment).

21. Love Unlimited - "It May Be Winter Outside (But in My Heart It's Spring)" (Billboard #85, entered 12/15/73; Soul #35). Written by Barry White and Paul Politi. Produced by Barry White. 45: "It May Be Winter Outside (But in My Heart It's Spring)"/"It's Winter Again" (20th Century 1973). LP: Under the Influence of Love Unlimited (20th Century 1973).

This "girl group" project featured producer Barry White reveling in musical '50s motifs skewed by slippery rhythm shifts. This single also borrows liberally from Bacharach.

22. Jim Croce - "It Doesn't Have to Be That Way" (Billboard #64, entered 12/29/73). Written by Jim Croce. Produced by Terry Cashman and Tommy West. 45: "It Doesn't Have to Be That Way"/"Roller Derby Queen" (ABC 1973). LP: Life and Times (ABC 1973).

This song closed the last album Croce released before perishing in a 1973 plane crash. Its elegiac realism made for a prototypical singer-songwriter single.

23. Dee Mullins - "Remember Bethlehem" (Billboard country #71). Written by Jake Thackery. Produced by Shelby Singleton, Jr. 45: "Remember Bethlehem"/"California, The Promise Land" (Plantation 1971).

This strange country polka in a minor key featured some of pop music's most cerebral lyrics. The title's implied sentiment was its deceptive calling card.

24. Perry Como - "Christmas Dream" (Billboard #92, entered 12/21/74). Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Timothy Rice. Produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Pete Spargo. 45: "Christmas Dream"/"Christ Is Born" (RCA 1974). LP: The Odessa File (Original Soundtrack) (MCA 1974).

One of Como's final Christmas outings was a cheerful accordion polka featuring children's voices. The song figured prominently in The Odessa File, starring Jon Voigt.

25. James Brown - "Hey America" (Billboard #105, entered 12/12/70). Written by Nat Jones and Addie Williams Jones. Produced by James Brown. 45: "Hey America"/"Hey America (Instrumental)" (King 1970). LP: Hey America (King 1970).

This minor-key workout captures Brown, at the height of his influence, mostly name-checking the nation, taking note of the peace movement, and improvising.

5 more:
Nilsson - "Remember (Christmas)" (Billboard Hot 100 #53). Written by Harry Nilsson. Produced by Richard Perry. 45: "Remember (Christmas)"/"The Lottery Song" (RCA Victor 1972). LP: Son of Schmilsson (RCA Victor 1972).

Having no overt musical or lyrical references to Christmas other than the title, Nilsson's tender ballad entered the charts on Dec. 23, peaking at #53.

Tony Bennett - "Tell Her It's Snowing" (Billboard easy listening #38, entered 5/5/73). Written by Nachum Heiman, Michael John Mallows, and Eddie Marnay. Produced by Tony Bennett. 45: "Tell Her It's Snowing"/"If I Could Go Back" (MGM/Verve 1973). LP: Listen Easy (MGM/Verve 1973).

This melodramatic number, which charted in May 1973, merges the "Love Story Theme" musical template with the fashionable theme of familial discord's effect on children.

Linda Clifford - "(It's Gonna Be) A Long, Long Winter" (Billboard soul #75, entered 2/23/74). Written by Curtis Mayfield. Produced by Curtis Mayfield and Rich Tufa. 45: "(It's Gonna Be) A Long, Long Winter"/"March Across the Land" (Paramount 1973).

A regular on the R&B and dance charts between 1973 and 1984, Linda Clifford took this Christmas afterthought to Billboard's soul chart in February 1973.

The Jackson 5 - "Christmas Won't Be the Same This Year" (Billboard Christmas 1970 #1 flipside). Written by Pam Sawyer and Laverne Ware. Produced by Hal Davis. 45: "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"/"Christmas Won't Be the Same This Year" (Motown 1970). LP: Jackson 5 Christmas Album (Motown 1970).

The B-side of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" charted alongside the A-side as per Billboard's custom at the time. Sounds hurried, like the A-side.

Sister Janet Mead - "The Lord's Prayer" (Billboard #4, entered 2/23/74; easy listening #2). Written by Martin Erdman. Produced by Lee Sands. 45: "The Lord's Prayer"/"Brother Sun and Sister Moon" (A&M 1973). LP: With You I Am (A&M 1974).

Although Australia's rocking nun hit the US charts in February 1974 and peaked at #4 during Holy Week, she's racked up years of Christmas airplay.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

KLIF (Dallas): Top 40, 1954-1972

KLIF in Dallas ("The Mighty 1190") stands among the most celebrated stations in Top 40 history thanks to radio industry legend Gordon McLendon. He ran KLIF like a flame tank across the North Texas plains, commanding, at times, an audience share of over 50 percent. Among the station's widely copied promotional practices was the type of compilation album I've discussed previously, featuring representative playlist entries and DJ head shots on the cover. Volume 6 of the "KLIF Klassics" series, which was released in 1972, captures the station at a cruxpoint. McLendon had only just sold the station (for a bundle) the previous year and the Mighty 1190 eventually found itself sputtering amid changing radio industry terrain.

The tracklist reveals a station attempting to cover all of the newly emerging format bases while grappling for a unifying sound - tricky business in the crossover-oriented early '70s, when fragmentation masqueraded as a cheerful olio. (Not evident in this album is the station's concurrent attempts to behave like an MOR station and cash in on the housewife market by featuring a daytime Feminine Forum-style "sex talk" show with Dave Ambrose's Girl Talk). DJs featured on the back cover: Mike Selden, Cuzzin' Linnie, Dave Ambrose, Jim Taber, Paxton Mills, Chuck Murphy, and Michael O'Shea.

Tracklist: "Band of Gold" (Freda Payne), "Oh Girl" (Chi-Lites), "Too Late to Turn Back Now" (Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose), "I Gotcha" (Joe Tex), "Easy Livin'" (Uriah Heep), "In the Summertime" (Mungo Jerry), "Garden Party" (Rick Nelson), "Help Me Make It Through the Night" (Sammi Smith), "A Horse with No Name" (America), "Timothy" (The Buoys), "Join Together" (The Who), "Stick Up" (The Honey Comb), "Walking in the Rain" (Love Unlimited), "I Saw the Light" (Todd Rundgren), "Popcorn" (Hot Butter), "On My Own" (BW Stevenson).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Two 1970 Mongoose Hits

On October 3, 1970, two songs about mongooses charted side by side on the Billboard Hot 100. “Mongoose,” by Elephant’s Memory (#54), was a five-minute hair-shaker featuring the occasional straight narrative, while Donovan’s “Riki Tiki Tavi” (#55) treated Kipling’s Jungle Book character metaphorically over a cowbell groove. I always did assume that pop chart compilers were nothing but jokers.

Elephant's Memory - "Mongoose" (Billboard #50, entered 8/8/70). Written by Rick Frank and Stan Bronstein. Produced by Ted Cooper. 45: "Mongoose"/"I Couldn't Dream" (Metromedia 1970). LP: Take It to the Streets (Metromedia 1970).
Donovan - "Riki Tiki Tavi" (Billboard #55, entered 8/22/70). Written and produced by Donovan Leitch. 45: "Riki Tiki Tavi"/"Roots of Oak" (Epic 1970). LP: Open Road (Epic 1970).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"(You're) Having My Baby" in retrospect

Paul Anka and Odia Coates - "(You're) Having My Baby" (Billboard #1, entered 7/6/74). Written by Paul Anka. Produced by Rick Hall. 45: "(You're) Having My Baby"/"Papa" (United Artists 1974). LP: Anka (United Artists 1974).

Paul Anka and Odia Coates's "(You're) Having My Baby" still has the power to stun listeners whether they knew or didn't know that it was once a #1 hit back in mid-'74. The much-maligned song seemed to have a lot of things going against it: biologically frank lyrics ("The seed inside you, baby/Do you feel it growing?"); a mellotron hook that's brazenly derivative of Elton John's "Daniel"; and a lyrical point of view mimeographed from Gloria Steinem's nightmares ("You could have swept it from your life/But you wouldn't do it"). What it had going for it, though, was subject matter that tapped into a national zeitgeist that had been unusually preoccupied with the subject of children for half a decade (see chapter one of my book if you're curious about this). The chauvinist aspect that ususally gets written about in reference to this song is really just a side story. "(You're) Having My Baby" is born of (so to speak), justified by, and a distinct relic of the early seventies preoccupation with children. It should be heard as a pop music culmination of those years. (The single's B side, "Papa," is a tribute to a devoted father that also helps to put the A side into truer perspective.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

WDEE (Detroit): Country, 1969-1980

WDEE in Detroit ("The Big D", 1500 AM) was a prime specimen of the sophisticated brand of MOR/country hybrid station that began populating the early '70s airwaves. The station launched in 1969 with 50,000 watts, stacks of research, personality DJs with Top 40 pedigrees, a program director with a Master's in communication, and call letters that wise-cracking competitors said stood for "we've done eveything else."

The chief competitor, in fact, was WEXL, which had been the Detroit area's most powerful country station since the early '60s. WEXL opted to counter WDEE's assault by sticking to its guns with an old-fashioned rural approach to country programming (Ernest Tubb and Kitty Wells were name-dropped in a 1970 Billboard article about the station). By 1974, though, WDEE had officially squelched WEXL, which had gone gospel that same year.

Although WDEE survived until 1980, the early '70s were its glory years. This is when it began airing Fem Forum with Tom Dean, a replica of Bill Ballance's Feminine Forum at KGBS in San Diego, which introduced a racy style of call-in talk show for housewives that caught fire at MOR stations across the US and eventually got in trouble with the FCC. Dean's show, nonetheless, managed to stay afloat during the station's entire lifespan.

A sales promo for the station, featuring innuendo-riddled dialogue between a Texas businessman and an effeminate male secretary voiced by McLean Stevenson, gives a vivid impression of this new breed of country station's very adult orientation. It also reveals the station's lineup (Deano Day, Dave Williams, Mike Scott, Tom Dean, Bob Day, and Don Thompson) and indicates that a WDEE promo album circa 1972 would perhaps include the following songs: "Okie from Muskogee" (Merle Haggard), "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (Glen Campbell), "When You're Hot You're Hot" (Jerry Reed), "Hello Darlin'" (Conway Twitty), "Rose Garden" (Lynn Anderson), "Early Mornin' Rain" (George Hamilton IV), "Make the World Go Away" (Eddy Arnold), "Only the Lonely" (Sonny James), "Folsom Prison Blues" (Johnny Cash), "Stand By Your Man" (Tammy Wynette), "Kentucky Rain" (Elvis Presley), and "Help Me Make it Through the Night" (Sammi Smith).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Food and "Whiteness" at MGM Records

"Milk and cookies," "milquetoast," "whipped cream" and "white bread" were terms one expected to hear in reference to MGM acts like the Cowsills, the Osmonds, and Pat Boone (an actual dairy spokesman) during the late '60s/early '70s. Helmed by the future Republican governor of California, Mike Curb, the label strove to project a clean, family-oriented image amid the unprecedented drug- and sex-friendliness of the music industry of the day. In response to the FCC's call for less narcotics on the airwaves, for example, Curb made Billboard headlines in 1970 by dropping 18 of his "progressive rock" and "hard drug groups" all at once. Curb also viewed the food-related descriptions mentioned above, evidently, as positive signifiers of cleanliness and whiteness or, maybe, whiteness-as-cleanliness. The Mike Curb Congregation's own "Sweet Gingerbread Man" (1970), though, demonstrated that no one was above the almighty double entendre.

The Cowsills surrounding a tower of white bread in the gatefold of The Cowsills (1967)

Whipped cream cake and dairy cows on the back of the Osmonds' Homemade (1971)

Milk as a central image for a 1972 Cashbox ad for Pat Boone and the Boone Girls' "Mr. Blue" single

The Mike Curb Congregation's "Sweet Gingerbread Man," in contrast, peddled cookies as "tasty and tan," naughty and nice.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Angst-Ridden Hits of R. Dean Taylor

Motown Records created its Rare Earth subsidiary specifically for white artists and named it in honor of the cowbell-clanking combo that had been sending Motown covers like "Get Ready" and "(I Know) I'm Losing You" up the charts. One of the label's other signings, R. Dean Taylor, was a Canadian who already had a Motown track record, having co-written the Supremes’ “Love Child” and the Temptations’ “All I Need,” among others. All of the singles Taylor charted with in the US under his own name - all of which happened in the early seventies - bristled with angst.

1. R. Dean Taylor - "Indiana Wants Me" (Billboard #5, entered 9/5/70). Written and produced by R. Dean Taylor. 45: "Indiana Wants Me"/"Love's Your Name" (Rare Earth 1970). LP: I Think, Therefore I Am (Rare Earth 1970).

Taylor's one all-out smash takes the point of view of a killer on the run. The first pressing's opening sirens - a radio no-no - disappeared on future pressings.

2. R. Dean Taylor - "Ain't It a Sad Thing" (Billboard #66, entered 2/13/71). Written and produced by R. Dean Taylor. 45: "Ain't It a Sad Thing"/"Back Street" (Rare Earth 1971). LP: I Think, Therefore I Am (Rare Earth 1970).

Here Taylor marches in step with the times and worries about the environment. Although the sentiment was downbeat, the whistle chorus was definitely upbeat.

3. R. Dean Taylor - "Gotta See Jane" (Billboard #67, entered 4/17/71). Written by R. Dean Taylor and Ron Miller. Produced by R. Dean Taylor. 45: "Gotta See Jane"/"Back Street" (Rare Earth 1971). LP: I Think, Therefore I Am.

Taylor's third charting single was nothing but romantic desperation, stomach-knots and remorse, and you sort of hope, for the good of both parties, that he doesn't find Jane. This was first released in 1967 on the V.I.P. label with "Don't Fool Around" on the flipside.

4. R. Dean Taylor - "Candy Apple Red" (Billboard #104, entered 7/31/71). Written and produced by R. Dean Taylor. 45: "Candy Apple Red"/"Woman Alive" (Rare Earth 1971).  LP: (no album appearance).

We know Taylor well enough by now to brace ourselves for trouble. "Candy apple red" is the color of his lost lover's lips, yes, but it's also the "color of his life" as he watches it "slip away." Here's the bridge: "I can't turn back...things are turning hands are numb... here it comes... here it comes..." Are those sirens I hear?

5. R. Dean Taylor - "Taos New Mexico" (Billboard #83, entered 4/15/72). Written and produced by R. Dean Taylor. 45: "Taos New Mexico"/"Shadow" (Rare Earth 1972). LP: (no album appearance).

"I'm serving time in Taos, New Mexico," goes the chorus, after which "he'll never leave" his girlfriend Maria alone. He's in jail, but the cheerful flutes and Mexican brass suggest it might be best that way.

1974 Bonus:

R. Dean Taylor - "There's a Ghost in My House" (UK #3). Written by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, and R. Dean Taylor. Produced by Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier. 45: "There's a Ghost in My House"/"Let's Go Somewhere" (Tamla Motown 1967).

In the UK Taylor is best known for this frantic, fuzzed-out track from 1967 that reached #3 as a 1974 re-release thanks to its popularity in the "northern soul" clubs where forgotten American R&B records filled the floors. Co-written with Motown's Holland, Dozier and Holland, it compares the horror of infidelity with that of paranormal experience.

Monday, August 8, 2011

KVET (Austin): Country, 1969-present

KVET is one of Austin's oldest stations, launching in 1946 and disseminating much of the city's local music during its first two-and-a-half decades. In 1969 the station locked into formatted country, with deejays like Jerry Gee (also a program director), Sammy "Geezinslaw" Allred, and Pete Grady.

In 1970, Billboard reported station president John R. Kreiger as having had all he could take of "records containing profanity" and that he'd be banning certain popular disks from KVET. For country, this was the era of experimentation and fear: radio stations and the records they spun were going through unprecedented changes, while a definite "hell in a hand basket" feeling troubled the establishment and expressed itself in various ways, such as this action of Kreiger's. Artists mentioned in the article as having crossed KVET's decency line were future outlaw Waylon Jennings (no big surprise) and "Nashville sound" pioneer Eddy Arnold (very big surprise).

The Jennings song in question was "The Taker," a Shel Silverstein-Kris Kristofferson co-creation containing the lines "he'll do her the way that I'd never, damned if he won't do her wrong" and "he'll take her to places and make her fly higher than she's ever dared to." (This ended up being one of Waylon's earlier monsters, hitting #5 on the country chart and infiltrating the Hot 100). As for Eddy Arnold, the song in question was his "A Man's Kind of Woman," in which he sings, "I can cheat the world with a losing hand, walk away and not give a damn except for you."

Two other country singles listed as being in trouble at KVET were (1) "Hey Joe," a track credited to Dean Michaels (very little info anywhere about who this was) from the Joe soundtrack featuring bleeped-out expletives and no connection with the Leaves/Hendrix song, and (2) Roy Clark's "I Never Picked Cotton" (like "The Taker," a top five country hit), which depicts voluntary manslaughter and features the line "there ain't a hell of a lot that I can look back on with pride."

Any future record-banning practices never made the pages of Billboard, and KVET stands firm to this day as one of Austin's country radio heavyweights. Some recent profanity flareups, though, involved the aforementioned Sammy Allred, whose utterances cost him his longtime gig in 2007.

Eddy Arnold - "A Man's Kind of Woman" (Billboard country #28, entered 7/11/70). Written by George Rizzo Produced by Chet Atkins. 45: "A Man's Kind of Woman"/"Living Under Pressure" (Billboard flipside, entered 7/11/70). Written by Baker Knight. (RCA Victor 1970). LP. Love and Guitars (1970).

Not mentioned in any of the Billboard articles was "Living Under Pressure," a me-generation relationship song that charted as a country flipside and included the following line: "The trying test of time they could not weather, deciding straight to hell with yesterday." So the single was, in fact, a double-sided Eddy Arnold swear-fest.

Waylon Jennings - "The Taker" (Billboard #94, entered 10/17/70; country #5). Written by Kris Kristofferson and Shel Silverstein. Produced by Danny Davis. 45: "The Taker"/"Shadow of the Gallows" (RCA Victor 1970). LP: The Taker (RCA Victor 1970).

The B-side appeared in a 1970 Australian film called Ned Kelly starring Mick Jagger with a beard. And you thought you knew your seventies.

Roy Clark - "I Never Picked Cotton" (Billboard #122, entered 6/13/70; country #5). Written by Charlie Williams and Bobby George. Produced by Joe Allison. 45: "I Never Picked Cotton"/"Lonesome Too Long" (Dot 1970). LP: I Never Picked Cotton (Dot 1970).

Johnny Cash revived this steel-eyed classic on his 1996 Unchained album.

Dean Michaels - "Hey Joe" (did not chart) Written by Bobby Scott and Danny Meehan. Produced by Bob Cullen. 45: "Hey Joe" (stereo)/"Hey Joe" (mono) (Mercury 1970). LP: Joe (original soundtrack) (Mercury 1970).

Although this non-charting song comes off as a country parody, evidence suggests it infiltrated more than a few legitimate playlists.