Category Archives: Diana Ross

Today’s Top 5: April 22, 1967

Fifty years ago today, everything was as groovy as it had been 20 days earlier. It was a Saturday, so 13-year-old Valerie S. of South Pasadena was able to join her mother on a gift-buying excursion for her older sister, whose birthday was the following day – but not before sleeping until about 10am. She also “watched” her hair.

As she says at the end of her diary entry, she had a good day.

Sixteen-year-old Wendy D. of suburban Pittsburgh also went shopping with her mom this day – but for herself. She picked the Barron’s SAT book to prepare for the exam, which was scheduled for the following month, plus a study guide for Wuthering Heights. But the day wasn’t a total scholastic-related enterprise. She also bought a pair of loafers. It may seem like a hum-drum life, and it was for her just now – but that would change in the coming months.

I share their experiences for a reason: Yesteryear was not as different from today as we sometimes make it out to be. The 1960s are oft-romanticized because of the music, drugs, free love, social movements and Vietnam War, and assassinations, but – just as today – the reality that most people experienced wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as what is portrayed in the movies or TV, or even in the news accounts of the day. Discrimination and prejudice were much more pronounced, no question, but – regardless – most men and many women went to work every weekday morning, and worried about the mortgage, bills and kids. And life unfolded for most teens much as it does, still: They slept late on weekends, went shopping with parents, worried about and studied for school, and hung out with friends. Most didn’t run away from home or descend upon Haight-Asbury (though they may have worn flowers in their hair).

What has changed: instant communication. Instead of trading texts, instant messages and Snapchats, as is common now, kids traded notes in class and called each other at night, if at all; and instead of turning to YouTube or Spotify for their music needs, they turned on the radio. Here’s Wolfman Jack doing his thing on XERB-AM, the Big 1090, sometime late this April (or possibly early May – Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” can be heard at the end, and that wasn’t released as a single until April 29th):

Anyway, enough of the preamble. Here’s today’s Top 5, pulled from this week’s charts from Weekly Top 40. (It’s not a straight countdown, but a hop, skip and jump through the chart.)

1) Frank & Nancy Sinatra – “Something Stupid.” For the second week in a row, this fun father-daughter duet held the top spot.

2) The Monkees – “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You.” Jumping from No. 5 to No. 3 in its fifth week on the charts is this Neil Diamond-penned pop song.

3) Tommy James & the Shondells – “I Think We’re Alone Now.” In its 11th week on the charts, this classic single climbed from No. 7 to No. 4.

4) The Supremes – “The Happening.” The title song to the flop movie of the same name is this fun little number, which clocked in at No. 11. It was the last single released prior to the group being renamed Diana Ross & the Supremes; and the last Supremes single with Florence Ballard.

5) The Platters – “With This Ring.” If you listened to the Wolfman Jack air check above, you already heard this single, which peaked this week at No. 14. It sounds like was airlifted in from 1959. (Side note: A movie could and should be made of this group due to its ever-churning lineup.

And two bonuses:

6) The Easybeats – “Friday on My Mind.” Jumping from No. 46 to. No. 30 this week is this classic ode to the weekend that was written by band members Harry Vanda and George Young. Here’s a piece of trivia: Young is the older brother of AC/DC’s Malcolm and Angus Young, and co-produced (with Vanda) many of their early albums.

7) The Young Rascals – “Groovin’.” New to the charts, at No. 79, is this signature song from the Rascals, which would hit No. 1 on May 20th.

Today’s Top 5: September 20, 1980

We watched Ordinary People last night. It’s a film we’d both seen before, though not in decades. Diane first saw it in a movie theater not long after its Sept. 19, 1980, release and I first saw it on PRISM, a now-defunct regional premium cable channel that was popular in the Philly area at the time, about a year later. An understated and powerful movie, it won a bevy of Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Redford, in his directorial debut) and Best Supporting Actor (Hutton).

ordinarypeopleFor those unfamiliar with it, the drama delves into the dynamics of a dysfunctional family following the death of eldest son Buck (Scott Doebler), who perished in a sailing accident that youngest son Conrad (Timothy Hutton) survived. As the story opens, Conrad has recently returned from a stay at a psychiatric hospital after a failed suicide attempt; he’s racked with survivor’s guilt. Mother Beth (Mary Tyler Moore, in an Oscar-nominated performance) is emotionally distant, more concerned with appearance than addressing his (or her, for that matter) needs. Father Calvin (Donald Sutherland), on the other hand, just wants everyone to get along. As Roger Ebert put it in his review, he’s “one of those men who wants to do and feel the right things, in his own awkward way.” Enter psychiatrist Tyrone Berger (Judd Hirsch) and the down-to-earth Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern), a girl who catches Conrad’s eye. Both, in their ways, help him overcome the guilt – one knowingly, the other not.

In other entertainment events from that September, the Dionne Warwick-hosted Solid Gold syndicated music series debuted on the 13th.

I have no memory of whether I watched it or not; likely not. If I wasn’t out at a movie – at the Hatboro Theater in downtown Hatboro or the Eric Theater in the Village Mall in Horsham – I was likely reading the Sunday newspaper while listening to the oldies on the radio, listening to music in my room and/or watching TV. (How’s that for narrowing it down?) I was 15, a high-school sophomore and serious music fanatic.

Among the album releases for the month: Kate Bush’s Never for Ever; David Bowie’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps); the Doobie Brothers’ One Step Closer; Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz; Barbra Streisand’s Guilty; Utopia’s Deface the Music; Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July; and Molly Hatchet’s Beatin’ the Odds.

And, with that – onward to today’s Top 5: September 20, 1980, in which I cherry pick my favorite hits from the Weekly Top 40 for the week in question…

1) Diana Ross – “Upside Down.” For the third week in a row, Diana held the top spot with this infectious song. It, like the 1980 diana album as a whole, was written and produced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, though the end result was not what they intended. Afraid that the original mix was too disco, which was quickly falling out if favor, Diana and engineer Russ Terrana gave the set a sleek, more pop-oriented makeover.

2) Irene Cara – “Fame.” Holding steady at No. 4 is this classic theme song. If you watched the above Solid Gold clip, you know that Irene sang (or lip-synced) it there; it’s such a great song, though, that I can’t help but share it again (And, yes, I know I’ve shared this same clip before – here, to be precise.)

3) Paul Simon – “Late in the Evening.” Clocking in at No. 7 is this classic from Paul Simon, which is one of my favorite songs by him.

4) Olivia Newton-John & Electric Light Orchestra – “Xanadu.” Just bubbling under the Top 10, at No. 12, is this, the title song to the movie musical, which was released the previous month. I saw the film at the aforementioned Eric Theater and, like most who did, didn’t find it a five-star affair. (An understatement, that.). The soundtrack, however, was darn good; I played it to death.

5) Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – “You’ll Accompany Me.” Here’s a classic song from Michigan’s rock ’n’ roll laureate. Against the Wind, the album that it’s from, was my Album of the Year for 1980; I still think it’s great.

And, for today, a few bonuses…

6) Christopher Cross – “Sailing.” Falling from No. 5 to 15 is this Grammy Award-winning song from Christopher Cross. I imagine that this song, from Cross’ debut, would be lumped into what’s now known as “yacht rock.” Whatever. At the time, I found it a pleasant diversion that I didn’t need to own – it was played fairly often on the radio, after all. Nowadays? I often play Rumer’s version from her 2014 B-Sides & Rarities collection.

7) Olivia Newton-John – “Magic.” This classic ONJ number held the top spot for four weeks in August before beginning its downward drift. This week, it fell from No. 13 to 27. Here she is on The Midnight Special promoting it…

8) Jackson Browne – “That Girl Could Sing.” Debuting on the charts this week, at No. 82, is this classic song from Hold Out, Browne’s only album to reach No. 1.

Today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow (circa 1970 & Billboard)

Thanksgiving night, after a wonderful get-together with family, Diane and I continued our trek through Good Girls Revolt. One episode centered on New Year’s Eve of 1969: As the ‘60s came to an end, Patti (Genevieve Angelson) and editor Finn (Chris Diamantopoulos) concluded that the decade had been about suppression and repression; the ‘70s, they predicted, would be about expansion. Then, at about 10:50pm, I received a message from iTunes: Rumer’s This Girl’s in Love: A Bacharach and David Songbook was available for download.

It’s a lilting and lush set; the music possesses the grace of Audrey Hepburn, soul of Dusty Springfield and vocal finesse of the 5th Dimension, if that makes sense, and evokes the era in which the songs were born while remaining firmly rooted in the present. While one can imagine Rumer singing, say, “One Less Bell to Answer” on The Tonight Show in 1969, one can also imagine her swaying to the same music on The Tonight Show next month. At its best, music transcends time and space; and this set does just that.

Anyway, the juxtaposition of Good Girls Revolt and This Girl’s in Love (and, perhaps, too much turkey) led me to reflection – and to the realization that Patti and Finn, in their rush to pass judgment on the ’60s, were wrong. The decade was not a time of suppression or repression. To the contrary. It was a time when the collective American mindset pushed past a centuries-old prejudice (race) and began to do the same with another (gender). That’s not to say prejudice was eliminated; far from it. But the majority of folks realized it was wrong.

Consider this clip from Petula, a TV special starring British pop singer Petula Clark that aired on NBC on April 2, 1968:

The moment near the end, when Petula puts her arm on Harry Belafonte’s? Believe it or not, it spurred a controversy. A vice president of Chrysler, which was sponsoring the show, demanded that another take be used due to the “interracial touching.” Petula Clark and her husband, the special’s producer, said no; NBC sided with them; and the special, when it aired, was a hit. But if that touch had occurred a decade earlier? NBC likely would’ve cut the song or, if not, many TV stations, primarily in the South, would’ve refused to air the show.

That said, despite the decade’s advances, life wasn’t great. Two days after that special aired, for example, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; two months later, Robert Kennedy was killed; four months later, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned violent; six months later, Richard Nixon was elected president; and, all the while, the Vietnam War raged – more than 16,592 American soldiers died and 87,388 were wounded that year.

When we strip the gauzy nostalgia from the reality of any time, we’re left with this: What often made the time wonderful was less day-to-day life and more the promise of what had yet to come. It’s why succeeding generations continue to embrace the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I think – despite the tumult of the ‘60s and woes of the ‘70s, the messages that powered much of the music were hopeful. And, by and large, we’re a hopeful lot.

Which leads to today’s Top 5: The Promise of Tomorrow, circa 1970 and Billboard. These are the year’s top singles…

1) Simon & Garfunkel – “Bridge Over Troubled Water”

2) The Carpenters – “(They Long to Be) Close to You”

3) The Guess Who – “American Woman”

4) B.J. Thomas – “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”

5) Edwin Starr – “War”

6) Diana Ross – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

And a few singles that didn’t make the year’s top 100:

7) The 5th Dimension – “One Less Bell to Answer”

8) Elton John – “Your Song”

9) Dusty Springfield – “A Brand New Me”