Sunday, October 14, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

52 Years Ago Today the very first WLS Silver Dollar Survey hit the streets.

With all the recent talk of late about the legendary, landmark status of The Big 89, it's fun to reflect back on just how HUGE a radio giant they were back in the day.

Although they had switched their format over to Top 40 / Rock And Roll six months earlier (launching the "new" station with "Alley Oop" by The Hollywood Argyles ... after previously being known primarily for their farm reports and weekly "Barn Dance" features) ... they didn't release their first Top 40 Chart until October 14th, 1960.

And it was a pretty bold move.  Sitting on top of the chart in the #1 Position was "Shortnin' Bread" by Paul Chaplain, a song that had fallen off the Billboard chart nearly a month earlier, after peaking at only #82.  

Right off the bat, WLS made a statement ... THESE are the songs that are popular here in Chicago.

The rest of The Top Ten was pretty standard radio fare for the day ... "Mr. Custer" was the #1 song in the nation according to Billboard that week.  Inching down the chart, tracks like "My Heart Has  A Mind Of Its Own" by Connie Francis, "It's Now Or Never" by Elvis, "Never On Sunday" by Don Costa, "So Sad" by The Everly Brothers, "You Mean Everything To Me" by Neil Sedaka, "Save The Last Dance For Me" by The Drifters, "Chain Gang" by Sam Cooke and "Pineapple Princess" by Annette were all Top 20 Hits at the time ... but check out #13 ... "Twisting U.S.A." by Danny and the Juniors ... and there were a few other surprises as well:  "Wait For Me" by The Playmates, "The Last One To Know" by The Fleetwoods and "Kookie Little Paradise" by Jo Ann Campbell were never Top 20 Hits nationally ... in fact The Fleetwoods track peaked at #96 for all of one week in Billboard ... and Jo Ann Campbell never rose above #61!

You'll find more surprises as you scale down the chart ... "Alvin For President" by The Chipmunks, "Come Home, Come Home" by The Sheppards and "Over You" by Aaron Neville all made that very first WLS Chart.

Two weeks later, local talent Tobin Matthews topped The Silver Dollar Survey with "Ruby Duby Du" ... yet on October 14th it hadn't even debuted on the chart yet!!! ... and ads ran in the national trades (including Billboard) touting the #1 Song on both the WLS Chart and The Top Tunes of Greater Chicago Chart ... because at the time, WLS was one of the stations BREAKING new music, NOT following the trend set by others.  No sir ... WLS was NOT going to be influenced by what was going on in the rest of the country ... these were the biggest selling records in Chicago ... and their station and Top 40 Chart were going to reflect that!!!

Soon, with their 50,000 watts of power behind them, WLS became a radio leader ... a true industry trendsetter, if you will ... a station that OTHER stations emulated (and wanted to be when they grew up.)  On a clear night you could pick up WLS across the nation ... and fans of the station soon spread nationwide.  To this day, nearly every person I have EVER come into contact with through Forgotten Hits has memories of listening to WLS back in the '60's ... regardless of where they were raised.

With each passing year, their status grew.  In the mid-'60's they provided airplay to local talent like The Buckinghams, The New Colony Six, The Cryan' Shames, The Ides Of March, The Shadows Of Knight, The American Breed and several others.  Soon these acts were topping the charts here and building a national following of fans.  (In an unprecedented move, The Cryan' Shames topped the WLS Chart for four consecutive weeks in 1967 with their #85 Billboard Hit "It Could Be We're In Love", fending off timeless, classic rock hits like "All You Need Is Love" by The Beatles and "Light My Fire" by The Doors, both national #1 hits that failed to hit the top of the charts here in Chi-Town due to our loyal following of The Cryan' Shames.)

Other surprising hits topped the WLS Chart over the years ... records that never quite made it (or, in many cases, even came close) to hitting #1 on the Billboard National Chart.  Hits like "Hello Mary Lou" by Ricky Nelson, the recently-featured "This Time" by Troy Shondell, "Let's Get Together" by Hayley Mills, "Mexico" by Bob Moore, "Goodbye Cruel World" by James Darren and "Let There Be Drums" by Sandy Nelson, both #1 for multiple weeks in 1961, "She Cried" by Jay and the Americans, "Let's Dance" by Chris Montez, "Bobby's Girl" by Marcie Blane, "The End of the World" by Skeeter Davis, "Washington Square" by The Village Stompers, "Wonderful Summer" by Robin Ward (#1 for four weeks in 1963), "You Don't Own Me" by Lesley Gore, "Suspicion" by Terry Stafford, "Crooked Little Man" by The Serendipity Singers, "Little Children" by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, "Have I The RIght" by The Honeycombs, "Keep On Dancing" by The Gentrys, "Pushin' Too Hard" by The Seeds, "Don't You Care" by The Buckinghams, "Mirage" by Tommy James and the Shondells ("Hanky Panky and "I Think We're Alone Now" had previously topped our chart for Tommy .. he'd top it again a few months later with "Mony, Mony", "Crimson and Clover" and "Crystal Blue Persuasion" as well as his solo hit, "Draggin' The Line"), the aforementioned "It Could Be We're In Love" by The Cryan' Shames, "Theme from 'Valley of the Dolls'" by Dionne Warwick, "I Will Always Think About You" by The New Colony Six, "Fire" by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown", "One" and "Easy To Be Hard" by Three Dog Night, "Little Woman" by Bobby Sherman, "Spirit In The Sky" by Norman Greenbaum, "Vehicle" by The Ides Of March, "Hitching A Ride" by Vanity Fare, "I Hear You Knockin'" by Dave Edmunds, "Spanish Harlem" by Aretha Franklin, "Go Away Little Girl" by Donny Osmond (the original Steve Lawrence version also topped our chart), "Nice To Be With You" by Gallery, "Nights In White Satin" by The Moody Blues, "Also Sprach Zarathustra / 2001" by Deodato, "Last Kiss" by Wednesday (incredibly, the J. Frank Wilson original did NOT top the chart in 1964!  Nationally, the remake only got to #34), "It's A Miracle" and "Weekend In New England" by Barry Manilow (Barry was HUGE here ... he even filmed his live television special at Ravina), "Wildfire" by Michael Martin Murphey, "Feelings" by Morris Albert, "Bohemian Rhapsody" (#1 for five straight weeks in 1976), "Got To Get You Into My Life" by The Beatles (#1 for three straight weeks) and "Nadia's Theme" by DeVorzon and Botkin were all #1 Records on the WLS Chart.

Several novelty tracks were also big #1 Hits here in Chicago.  "The Touchables" and "Mr. Jaws" by Dickie Goodman,"King Tut" by Steve Martin (#1 for four weeks!) and "Earache My Eye" by Cheech And Chong. ("Basketball Jones" peaked at #2 and "Sister Mary Elephant" at #3) All of these records topped our chart along with national novelty hits like "Mr. Custer", "Mother-In-Law", "Monster Mash", "If You Wanna Be Happy", "The Streak" and "Disco Duck".

WLS was a recognized industry leader ... a trend-setting station that other stations and programmers looked up to.  They had the best jocks and "personality radio" ruled the airwaves.  This is why it is SO disheartening and disappointing today to see them reduced to being nothing more than a follower ... just another in an endless series of radio clones ... displaying absolutely NO identity of their own, preferring instead to go along with whatever everybody else is playing and resting on their past laurels.

Today, on the anniversary of their first chart, we remember the glory days ... and salute WLS for what it was ... and challenge WLS to once again take ownership of their identity ... and their incredible legacy.  You CAN control your destiny.  There are literally MILLIONS of us out there who listened ... and we haven't forgotten ...  that sound you hear in the background is our hearts breaking ... while we quietly switch the station ... looking for something ... ANYTHING ... new and exciting on the dial again.  (kk)


C'mon ... where else are you gonna hear these?!?!?  (And by the way ... shouldn't WLS be celebrating their "birthday" today, too??? Instead of playing yet another Steve Miller, Eagles, Supertramp or Bryan Adams song???)

***More WLS Memories tomorrow in Forgotten Hits.