Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Top 40" Radio in 1963

Every once in awhile, I find myself returning to the obsessions of my past. (No, this post has nothing to do with baseball.)

From 6th grade through junior high (i.e., 9th grade), I became a fanatic of Top 40 radio. I faced a bit of an obstacle in that the town where I lived then (Warren, Pennsylvania, the “home of 15,000 friendly people” as a welcoming billboard once proclaimed) had only one radio station, WNAE. Back in the early-to-mid 1960s, it programming focused extensively on local news and issues. For examples, the latest obituaries were read three or four times a day. Popular music received very limited airplay: Club 1310 for about an hour in the late afternoon and a 2-hour “Hi-Time” program featuring high-school disc jockeys on Saturday morning.

As a result, I found myself tuning my transistor radio to other options: ""clear-channel" radio stations from big cities in the East and Midwest.

WBZ in Boston (“Juicie Brucie” Bradley)
WABC in New York (“Cousin” Bruce Morrow, still doin’ it)
KDKA in Pittsburgh
WKBW in Buffalo (Joey Reynolds and Dan Neaverth)
CKLW in Detroit/Windsor. (Best mix of music ever found on AM radio.)
WLS and WCFL in Chicago. (Anyone remember Chickenman? Heseverywhereheseverywhere!)

Due to Warren’s “nestled” location, the channels weren’t always so clear. The signal would fade out, the music retreating slowly into silence. Approaching thunderstorms added crashing cymbals of noise to the reception, and some days there was an inexplicable humming or staticky noise in the background, as though aliens were attempting to harmonize with the Beach Boys or the Four Seasons.

For nearly a year, I used my paper-route earnings to buy a copy of Billboard each week. The newsstand price was 50 cents, if I recall, compared to 30 cents (cheap) for Mad magazine. (There you have it! These two titles sports biographies comprised the bulk of my reading at this time. No Onion John. No Across Five Aprils. No Island of the Blue Dolphins. How did I ever become a librarian? Although, in my defense, I read all three books during a binge of juvenile and YA fiction reading about 10 years ago. Just catchin' up, I guess.)

Almost from the start, I developed a ritual for reading Billboard. I immediately opened to the “Hot 100”, the most popular singles based on radio play and number of copies purchased. I always found plenty to quibble over, as my tastes often conflicted with the mainstream. I also made a habit of listening to “countdown” shows – Cousin Brucie’s was always on Tuesday evenings – to detect regional differences.

Anyway, the whole point of this exercise is to share a Top 100 list for all of 1963 that I prepared a few years ago. I just wanted to set the records straight! (Full disclosure: I edited the original list, a reflection of the changes that take place in how we respond to music. The two lists I ended up with, however, aren't all that different.)

In my estimation, the year 1963 in popular music can best be described as the calm before the storm. Elvis still made lots of records but he no longer ruled the airwaves. “Girl groups – the Chiffons, the Crystals, the Cookies – remained popular, but the Shirelles, who with “Tonight’s the Night” in late 1960 jump-started this trend, were already on the wane. In early 1964, the Beatles, and the rest of the British invasion groups (Dave Clark Five, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Animals, Yardbirds) would instantly transform the sound of top 40 radio, and even, hyperbolically speaking, the world.

1. One Fine Day (The Chiffons)
2. Up on the Roof (The Drifters)
3. Wait Till My Bobby Gets Home (Darlene Love)
4. Come and Get These Memories (Martha & the Vandellas)
5. Pride and Joy (Marvin Gaye)
6. It’s All Right (The Impressions)
7. On Broadway (The Drifters)
8. He’s Sure the Boy I Love (The Crystals with Darlene Love)
9. In Dreams (Roy Orbison)
10. That’s How Heartaches are Made (Baby Washington)
11. Hitch Hike (Marvin Gaye)
12. Cry Baby (Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters)
13. Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby (The Cookies)
14. Blue Bayou (Roy Orbison)
15. What’s Easy for Two (Mary Wells)
16. What a Guy (The Raindrops)
17. Quicksand (Martha & the Vandellas)
18. Then He Kissed Me (The Crystals)
19. Pipeline (The Chantays)
20. Just One Look (Doris Troy)
21. Ruby Baby (Dion)
22. Not Too Young to Get Married (Bobb B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, vocal by Darlene Love)
23. Sally Go Round the Roses (The Jaynetts)
24. Be My Baby (The Ronettes)
25. Heat Wave (Martha & The Vandellas)
26. Foolish Little Girl (The Shirelles)
27. Hello Stranger (Barbara Lewis)
28. Hey Girl (Freddie Scott)
29. Can I Get a Witness (Marvin Gaye)
30. Sweet Dreams of You (Patsy Cline)
31. The Lonely Surfer (Jack Nitzsche)
32. A Love So Fine (The Chiffons)
33. Da Doo Ron Ron (The Crystals)
34. Baby Workout (Jackie Wilson)
35. The Monkey Time (Major Lance)
36. Six Days on the Road (Dave Dudley)
37. Pushover (Etta James)
38. The Love of My Man (Theola Kilgore)
39. These Arms of Mine (Otis Redding)
40. When the Lovelight Starts Shining (The Supremes)
41. The Kind of Boy You Can’t Forget (The Raindrops)
42. Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry (Darlene Love)
43. Another Saturday Night (Sam Cooke)
44. You Lost the Sweetest Boy (Mary Wells)
45. Chains (The Cookies)
46. Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash)
47. Half Heaven Half Heartache (Gene Pitney)
48. Maria Elena (Los Indios Tabajaras)
49. It’s My Party (Lesley Gore)
50. My Boyfriend’s Back (The Angels)
51. Falling (Roy Orbison)
52. Hey Little Girl (Major Lance)
53. Losing You (Brenda Lee)
54. He’s So Fine (The Chiffons)
55. Easier Said Than Done (The Essex)
56. Our Day Will Come (Ruby & the Romantics)
57. I Can’t Stay Mad at You (Skeeter Davis)
58. You Don’t Have to be a Baby to Cry (The Caravelles)
59. Detroit City (Bobby Bare)
60. Donna the Prima Donna (Dion DiMucci)
61. Leaving on Your Mind (Patsy Cline)
62. Mean Woman Blues (Roy Orbison)
63. Bossa Nova Baby (Elvis Presley)
64. Mickey’s Monkey (The Miracles)
65. Walk Right In (The Rooftop Singers)
66. Little Town Flirt (Del Shannon)
67. Walk Like A Man (The Four Seasons)
68. Mecca (Gene Pitney)
69. More (Kai Winding)
70. Tips of my Fingers (Roy Clark)
71. Wives and Lovers (Jack Jones)
72. Till Then (The Classics)
73. If You Wanna Be Happy (Jimmy Soul)
74. Every Day I Have to Cry (Steve Alaimo)
75. Down at Papa Joe’s (The Dixiebelles)
76. Mockingbird (Inez Foxx)
77. Your Old Stand By (Mary Wells)
78. You Really Got a Hold on Me (The Miracles)
79. Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa (Gene Pitney)
80. Shake a Tail Feather (Five Du Tones)
81. Since I Fell for You (Lenny Welch)
82. Memphis (Lonnie Mack)
83. Watermelon Man (Mongo Santamaria)
84. The Nitty Gritty (Shirley Ellis)
85. Talk to Me (Sunny & the Sunglows)
86. She's a Fool (Lesley Gore)
87. Don’t Make Me Over (Dionne Warwick)
88. True Love Never Runs Smooth (Gene Pitney)
89. Follow the Boys (Connie Francis)
90. Don't Think Twice It's All Right (Peter, Paul & Mary)
91. Have You Heard (The Dupress)
92. South Street (The Orlons)
93. From a Jack to a King (Ned Miller)
94. Louie Louie (The Kingsmen)
95. Wonderful Summer (Robin Ward)
96. I Wonder What’s She Doing Tonight (Barry & the Tamerlanes)
97. Surfer Joe (The Surfaris)
98. So Much in Love (The Tymes)
99. You're the Devil in Disguise (Elvis Presley)
100. Killer Joe (Rocky Fellers)

Still to come: Absences (at least one so obvious as to knock you over like an ocean wave), oversights and reconsiderations.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Baseball When It Mattered

Last Saturday JoAnna and I visited the Wisconsin Historical Museum on the Capitol Square to see the current featured exhibit on its final day.

World Series Wisconsin” celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Milwaukee Braves' triumph over the New York Yankees in the 1957 World Series and the 25th anniversary of the year when “Harvey's Wallbangers" (a.k.a. the Milwaukee Brewers) won the American League pennant but lost the Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, 4 games to 3.

Perhaps because it was just “slightly before my time”, I found myself more interesting in viewing the 1957 exhibits instead of the more familiar 1982 artifacts.

In the fall of 1957, the Braves were in their fifth season in Milwaukee. Fan support, local and statewide, was unsurpassed, as shown by this chart. Attendance at County Stadium averaged 28,771 per game, compared to 5,936 for the perennially lowly Washington Senators.

At the same time, the Nelson family had recently moved to Warren, Pennsylvania, from Great Falls, Montana, where, in my memory, baseball did not exist. Through the first grade, I can’t recall seeing a bat, ball, or glove anywhere, though I’m sure I must have had some contact with the sport, however peripheral. (A native of Springfield, Massachusetts -- the birthplace of basketball, by the way, Mom always thought Great Falls was the most remote place she ever lived.)

Starting with the spring and summer of ‘58, however, my childhood in Warren involved countless games of wiffle ball and kickball. In Great Falls, I don’t remember these games being played in the schoolyard of Whittier (where I attended kindergarten) or Lincoln (1st grade) or any of the city parks we visited.

Sidelight: Minor-league baseball came to Great Falls in 1940, after the construction of Legion Park, a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The team abandoned the city in 1955. In the early 1960s, a group of 100 businessmen, known as the Great Falls Baseball Club, pledged $1,000 apiece toward the renovation of the 1940 baseball field. The Los Angeles Dodgers established a team, part of the Pioneer League, in 1965. Except for a change of ownership – the Chicago White Sox – the team has remained a part of the Great Falls’ sports scene ever since.

In 1957, major league baseball consisted of 16 teams – 8 in the National League and 8 in the American. The westernmost team was located in Kansas City, the Athletics being in just their third year of operation there after a long and storied history in Philadelphia. Great Falls was far beyond KC’s sphere of influence. The center of the baseball universe at this time, of course, was New York City, where the Yankees had dominated the sport since the 1920s. They almost always managed to outgun their municipal rivals: the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Part of my insularity might have to do with the fact that my folks didn’t buy a television until I was nearly 7 years old. And Great Falls’ two (?) TV stations didn’t start their broadcast day until 4:30 p.m. But this story is worth a separate blog post.

In baseball, “before my time” is anything that occurred prior to the 1960 season, when the success of the Pittsburgh Pirates turned me into the type of fan(atic) who pores over the box scores in the newspaper sports pages, learning the names and batting averages and other statistics of even the most obscure players. Reading the box scores of the seven games of the 1957 World Series, included as part of the museum’s exhibit, I recognized most of the names on the team rosters. Many of them had continued their careers at least into the early 1960s.

With a varied degree of clarity, I can recall a cluster of memories from my first visit to a major league ballpark. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, where Dad served as minister from 1957 through his retirement in 1981, must have had a churchmen’s league at the time, which organized a father-son trip to Forbes Field to see a game between the Pirates and the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, July 18, 1959. (I was 9 at the time.) A chartered bus delivered us to our destination. For some odd reason, I picture a regular city bus, designed for short hauls, as opposed to a “coach” model for comfortable highway travel, but I can’t imagine that this was actually the case. I have an unusually clear image of stepping off the bus onto a busy sidewalk along the Schenley Drive side of the stadium. We sat in a section of seats down the right-field line and beneath the overhang of the upper deck. Although this was the first time I attended such a large-scale event, I don’t recall any feelings of fear or intimidation. (I was always a kid who loved to travel.) I must have experienced a few moments of boredom as Dad would occasionally direct my attention to what was happening on the field. My clearest memory of the game itself is a home run hit by Willie Mays, which provided the Giants with their 4-3 winning margin.

On the return trip, we had to make an unexpected stop as Dick Bloom, a year older than me – or was it Ronnie Bloom, his cousin, another year older – got sick and threw up.

“Too much Willie Mays,” joked Elmer Bloom, Dick’s dad – or was it Bernie Bloom, Elmer’s brother.

Here’s my favorite picture from the World Series Wisconsin exhibit.

Lew Burdette’s neighbors celebrate
the Braves’ World Series victory
in front of his decorated house.

The 1957 hero of the Milwaukee Braves lived -- he won 3 games, including the decisive Game 7 -- in a modest Cape Cod house in an obviously working-class neighborhood, just as if he were some guy who punched the clock at Allis-Chalmers every day. And fans and admirers could stand outside his house without being shooed away by the police. Even the car parked in the driveway bespeaks someone who doesn’t put on airs. Money has certainly changed this picture. Today, without a caption, who would guess this picture has anything to do with sports?

Oh, and just for good measure, here's the boxscore of the second major league baseball game I attended.

Friday, January 11, 2008

New (and Occasional) Feature: What I Learned from the New York Times Today

Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, is full of himself. (OK, this is just a reaffirmation, not something I just learned.) In a front page article (“Calls Grow for Bloomberg to Make Up His Mind”), Bloomberg comes off like a child playing with a toy that few other people can afford, taking delight at his “dalliance with the idea of running for president.”

The following quote confirms that the speculation is nothing more than a tempest in a teapot. “Editorial pages from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Post, The Village Voice, and The New Yorker have taken him to task. Granted, the voice of these publications carries beyond the New York City limits, but the message itself is Gotham based. Now maybe if the Star-Ledger (“the voice of New Jersey”) had weighed in, I’d feel different

Those of us who live in Wisconsin know about the hubris of a native son who feels his popularity will translate well elsewhere. Think “Tommy Thompson for President”. Folks in neighboring Iowa basically said, “Huh? Wha? Who the hell is this guy?” Only cheeseheads can appreciate, even if some of us still can’t fully understand, 14 years of Teflon Tommy in the Governor’s office.

New York State actually has two such delusional office-seekers: the aforementioned Michael Bloomberg and former Governor George Pataki. In both cases, their presidential ambitions are laughable, in a snorting sort of way, to anyone outside of the Empire State.

Mutualism. Plants and animals living in a mutually beneficial relationship. At a research site in Kenya, an ecologist from the University of Florida noticed that a stand of acacia trees withering and dying, even though they had been fenced off to protect them from leaf-eating elephants and giraffes. With no animals to bother them, the trees decided to produce smaller thorns in which ants nested and less nectar on which they sipped. As a result, the ants’ decreased level of activity allowed wood-boring beetles to invade the trees. Alan Weisman is probably taking notes on this phenomenon.

Charles A. Rosenthal is a hypocrite. The current district attorney of Harris County in Texas believes that “the death penalty is God’s law as well as the state’s and that he follows both”. (By a large margin, his office has sent the most people to death row.

And just how closely does Mr. Rosenthal follow God’s law?

Here’s the second paragraph from “Texas to Review E-Mail Messages Sent by Prosecutor”. Republican officeholders and party leaders are calling for Mr. Rosenthal, a Republican, to resign after the release of hundreds of his email messages, including love notes to his secretary, racist jokes, and videos of men sneaking up to women and tearing off their clothes in public.

It would be interesting to learn which of the Ten Commandments he hasn’t broken.