American Top 40 PastBlast, 11/9/74: Carole King, “Jazzman”

According to Pete Battistini’s book on 70s AT40 shows, on 8/3/74 Casey fielded a question from a listener who wanted to know what song in the rock era had suffered the largest drop from the #1 spot. The answer turned out to be “The Sound of Silence,” which fell all the way to #12 in January 66. It also happened to be the only song to that point to fall completely out of the Top 10 directly from the summit. Little did anyone know that within four months Paul & Art would get a lot of company in that distinction.

Over a nine-week stretch in the autumn of 74—9/28 to 11/23—seven #1 songs matched or beat the fall of “The Sound of Silence.” It started with Barry White and Andy Kim: “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” and “Rock Me Gently” both dropped to #12. After a two-week pause (“I Honestly Love You” stayed a second week at #1 and then dropped only to #4), the onslaught continued: two plunging all the way to #15 (Billy Preston, with “Nothing from Nothing,” and the Dionne Warwicke/Spinners collaboration “Then Came You”), followed by three more droppers to #12 (Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” and John Lennon’s “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”).

And then…just as soon as it started, that spigot was turned off. Charttoppers recommenced falling to positions like #2, #5, and #6. In fact, a fall out of the Top 10 by a #1 has happened only once since, when Diana Ross dropped to #11 with “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To),” in late January 76, exactly ten years after “The Sound of Silence” kicked things off.

It wasn’t just #1 songs that fell harder than normal. On the previous show, “Steppin’ Out,” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, and Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” were at #7 and #8; this week, they’re nowhere to be played, dropping to #48 and #44, respectively. (“Steppin’ Out” held the record for highest-ranked song to fall out of the 40 until “Even the Nights Are Better,” by Air Supply, went from #6 to #42 in September 82—don’t even get me started on the huge-dropping songs of late 82).

This was simply a period of high churn. Compare the Top 10 between the weeks that bracket this countdown:

11/2/74 11/16/74
1 You Haven’t Done Nothin’ Whatever Gets You Through the Night
2 You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet Do It ‘Til You’re Satisfied
3 Jazzman My Melody of Love
4 The Bitch Is Back Tin Man
5 Can’t Get Enough Back Home Again
6 Whatever Gets You Through the Night I Can Help
7 Steppin’ Out Longfellow Serenade
8 Sweet Home Alabama Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)
9 Stop and Smell the Roses Everlasting Love
10 Tin Man Carefree Highway

Eight new songs in two weeks! A record? I wonder, and I wonder how easily it’s researched…

But back to large drops from #1: what caused that run of heretofore virtually unseen behavior? I’ve seen some speculation on a message board I read that it was perhaps related to the economy: a recession had been going for a while, there could have been some residual issues from the Oil Crisis the previous year, etc. I’m not convinced there was any sort of external stimulus; the sudden-on/sudden-off nature of the phenomenon feels a little strange.

As you can see above, even Carole King wasn’t immune to a quick fall from on high. “Jazzman” had climbed to #2 on this show; the next week, it’d be #11. I’d put it right up there with “It’s Too Late,” “So Far Away,” and “Sweet Seasons” among her best singles. The writing, the arrangement, the musicianship (especially that sax) are all top-notch. I think it’s time to let it try to take my blues away.

 

There’ll be more chart nerdishness tomorrow.

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2 Comments

  1. A few years ago I looked into this, not just the big drops from #1 but the volatility further down the chart. (The latter post, which links to the former, is here: https://thjkoc.net/2012/11/16/bullets-fly) This was the era when Bill Wardlow was the maestro of the Billboard charts, an era in which there were plenty of shenanigans, so maybe that had something to do with the weird numbers.

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    1. Thanks very much for the links; I’m not surprised that you covered this territory well years ago (I should have looked).

      I like to think I have a decent feel for the oddities of AT40 movement between 76-83 from having lived through them (though I’ve learned a lot since about Wardlow’s issues via you and others). But the charts from the first half of the 70s are still a foreign land to me, despite having listened to a number of the shows over the past six-plus years (actually two foreign lands, with the divide somewhere around 72 or 73).

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