Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Forgotten Christmas tune of the 1970s

Just before the Christmas's a tune from the 1970s that is perhaps as relevant today as it was when it was first recorded.

When it comes to Christmas-themed music from the 1970s, there are a handful of songs that come to mind: "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano, The Jackson 5's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" or "I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus," The Carpenters' beautiful "Merry Christmas Darling," Elton John's "Step into Christmas," Paul McCartney & Wings' "Wonderful Christmastime" or The Eagles' "Please Come Home for Christmas." Throw in the holiday offerings from other eras and maybe the Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet on "The Little Drummer Boy" from that '77 Holiday TV special and a fan could make an amazing CD of 1970s Holiday music.

There's a good reason for this. In the music buisness, Christmas singles are rare because their radio "shelf life" is rather short: most get airplay between Thanksgiving and Christmas. For a business that depends on sales, the short season kills a lot of holiday-themed singles.

Though you'd never know it, the list of Christmas and Holiday songs above includes only one song -- the one by The Eagles -- that actually made the Top 40. Believe it or not, no holiday 45s by The Carpenters, The Jackson 5, Elton John or Wings ever charted at all. The reason they stay in our memory is because they are like familiar friends when they get pulled out and played every year on the radio, in stores and on TV.

But there's another song that made the pop Top 40 that would be a great addition to the list but is overlooked. The gem? If We Make it Through December by Merle Haggard. It was a huge country hit (#1 for 4 weeks on that chart) but of all Haggard's anthems, this was the only hit he ever had on Billboard's Top 40. Beginning the first week of January '74 (just as we were pretty certain he'd made it through December) and spending 3 short weeks on the 40, it peaked at #28.

Even if you're not a country-listening type, this song deserves a listen. Its opening guitar and subject matter will pique the interest of any 70s singer/songwriter fan (in fact, Haggard wrote the song)...and the story it tells about a family man who'd been laid off at his job and has to figure out what he does next is something that resonates today with all the news about economic woes and rising unemployment. Despite the fact that it mentions December and Christmas, it's not really a Christmas song in the classic sense but it's a great tune. You'll thank me once you've heard it.

For anybody who wants to listen, here's a couple of ways you can get it quickly:

If you'd like to snatch the MP3 up from Amazon, here's a link. You don't even need to have 99 cents; for 5 Pepsi caps, you can download it for free. Even if you don't get it, the link has a 30-second snippet of the tune so you can hear what it sounds like.

If you prefer iTunes, here's a link: Merle Haggard - Down Every Road, 1962-94 - If We Make It Through December

Monday, November 17, 2008

New Site Features

After nearly a decade since building my website, I've decided to add some extras to the content. I've been (slowly) adding links to Amazon and iTunes to allow users to get many of the songs in their collections...and hopefully any proceeds that will help build the site for thr future.

Soon, I should also be adding LP chart information in the next few weeks. The idea is to provide links to Amazon (or other sites) to as many LPs from the 1970s as possible. Right now, I'm still trying to decide whether I want to add LP info to the artist listings as they are, or if I want to build a different section entirely for the LP info and link between the single and LP portions. If anybody has any helpful advice about this, please let me know.

In the future...I might consider adding chart info for country and R&B, which would make the site a very complete reference for 70s audiophiles. Again, I'll need to determine whether the site will need to be integrated or sectioned off and linked together. Finally, if the site begins to turn a decent profit...I'll see about moving away from the free Geocities server and finding a host that can provide greater bandwidth and versatility.

My other idea is to find a way of linking artist info as a pop-up when clicked (probably a JavaScript function), as opposed to simply linking away from the site to Yahoo!Music or Wikipedia. Again, if there are any experts out there who know of a service, I'm all ears.

So please...excuse the dust. I'm renovating the site to make it easier to use and more likely to become a first stop for music lovers who want to get the most complete info about 1970s music as possible.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who I Am

As I begin this blog, I'd like to share a little bit about me with my readers and visitors. My name is Chris and I have been a 70s music fanatic since I was about 14 years old. Call it a sickness, but I love the stuff.

I was born in 1972 -- in fact, the same date as the Billboard chart that listed The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" at #1 -- and while I grew up in the 1980s, my first memories were of 70s music. I remember hearing Abba's "Dancing Queen" blasting across the parking lot of the complex we lived in in '77. I remember two of my classmates entertaining us in Mrs. Wood's 2nd grade class with their take on Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" I remember watching Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever and Grease at the movie theater. I even remember asking my father (who was in the U.S. Navy) why he didn't seem to care for The Village People's Navy song.

Around 1982, I was hooked on Top 40 radio and became a regular listener to Casey Kasem's countdown shows. It was a good time to be into hit radio, but several years later, the music seemed different. By 1987, I still listened to the hits but they didn't "speak" to me the same way. So, I did what a lot of kids do: I clandestinely scoped out my parents' old record collection and listened to them when nobody else was around. Although I initially became fond of The Beatles and The Four Seasons for the power in their music, I was also drawn to the stories in the songs by John Denver, Jim Croce and Carly Simon. I could relate to the guy who was making his way in "I Got a Name" because I was getting ready to take that path myself. At the same time, I became enamored of the grooves behind funk and disco. Before I knew it, I was listening to Barry Manilow and The Carpenters (still, when nobody else was around). I was adding Steely Dan, The Eagles and ELO to my collection of cassette tapes. I soon realized I was hopelessly devoted to the music.

Around the age of 20, I was a radio DJ in upstate New York. At WFNP (my college's station), I did several 70s-format shows under the DJ name Dr. Funk. They were very well-recieved and got a lot of requests. I later worked at WBWZ (Z93) in 1995/'96 when it was an all-70s format. I wasn't one of the big guys at that station; I did weekends and the occasional overnight shift. The best thing about working at a station during those hours is that usually, you're the only person there. Among the great reference materials at the station was the following book:

(Click the link and pick up a copy if you want...yes, a little commission from that gets sent my way, but I'll use any proceeds to get more info for my site).

The book has a copy of every Billboard Hot 100 chart from 1970-'79. With unlimited access to a copy machine and no office staff to wonder what the heck I was doing, I began making a database of every song that hit the chart, grouped by artist. I used the info for my radio shows until I left the business.

In 2000, I got a decent computer and begin surfing the Web on a regular basis. Out of my own curiosity, I began learning HTML and used the info I'd gathered in my radio days to build a website. The result: my website Top Hits of the 1970s. Ironically, I entered much of the HTML code for the site while doing part-time weekend work for a different radio station in Florida.

That's a short introduction. I'll stop by occasionally to share my insight about 70s music and culture. Before I leave, here's another book that is a great addition to the reference shelf of any fellow 1970s music fanatics. Written by Fred Bronson, the book has a lot of great lists: top songs by artists, producers, writers and record labels, top songs by subject matter, even the Top songs by year and decade beginning with 1956 and a list of the overall Top 5000 songs in the Rock Era. His lists for top songs by year and decade show up (in abbreviated form) on my website.

Until next time...ciao.