Monday, December 15, 2014

The number one song of all-time is...

We’re fast approaching the “List” time of year. Top movies of the year. Top TV shows. Top sex tapes. And of course these are all bullshit.  The amazing thing is we get pissed when we read them but we KNOW they're absurd. 

Back in my disc jockey days in the swingin'  ‘70s, every station I worked for would put together their “all-time Top 300” or “500” to play over a long holiday weekend. Listeners were invited to send a postcard (email? What’s that?) listing their three ALL-TIME favorite three songs. Invariably, two of the three would be current hits. If we tabulated the audience’s actual entries the number one song of all-time would be “The Night Chicago Died.” Number two would be “Billy Don’t Be a Hero.”  Worse -- if this was done in 1968 "Honey" would be the all-time greatest rock n' roll record ever.

Obviously, we couldn’t go with that and keep our FCC license so we essentially just threw out the cards and two or three of us jocks were assigned to assemble the list. We referenced Billboard Magazine's year-end sales surveys and skewed towards the bands that were popular in our market. Beach Boys songs were more plentiful in San Diego than Four Seasons' tunes, but I’m sure in New York it was just the opposite. In Detroit, Motown ruled. Elvis topped the charts in Memphis. And in Seattle, Marilee Rush & the Turnabouts kicked some serious ass.

We also juggled the music for tempo and variety. There were never two ballads in a row; never two instrumentals. We made sure the years were properly shuffled so there wouldn’t be a stretch of all ’69 records followed by a stretch of ’61’ers. Bubblegum was kept to a minimum. And I don’t care how many records it sold, “Dominique” by the Singing Nuns was not going to make the list. (Ironically, KHJ, the big rocker in Los Angeles just went to an all-Catholic format. “Dominique” would probably now top their chart.)

So without the benefit of exhaustive computation and scrupulous crosschecking to ensure complete accuracy the “Top 300 of All-Time” was assembled. Three guys and a six-pack of beer put it together.

Don’t you think the same is true when ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY or E! television or PEOPLE magazine compile their all-time lists? I would assume young staffers are assigned these tasks, which is why THE MINDY PROJECT might come in as say the #4 sitcom of all-time while ALL IN THE FAMILY ranks #62. Or Dwayne Johnson is considered a bigger all-time movie star than Gary Cooper.

So as these lists begin appearing in the next couple of weeks, remember they are all bogus… except any that ranks MASH or CHEERS or BIG WAVE DAVE’S the greatest sitcom of all-time. Those are legit.


Jim S said...

To be fair, Dwayne Johnson "rocked" the last G.I. Joe Movie. Gary Cooper never did a film based on a boy's action toy. That matters to the youth of today.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Earlier this year he NPR station in my market did the 880 (it's where they are on the FM dial) all-time best songs as well as the 88 all-time worst songs. Interestingly some songs made both lists.

Speaking of skewered, wondered what your take was on the Golden Globe TV nominations. It looks like the Hollywood Foreign Press is trying to be edgy - or off the cliff. They shocked many last year by giving "Brooklyn 99" best comedy series and best actor. Then the show can't even garner a nomination the following year. And three of the five nominated shows for best comedy series are brand new. Networks didn't fare well at in any of the categories. Of course you have less people who vote for those awards than comment on this blog.

Speaking of which, on yesterday's blog comments it seems almost everyone agrees that "Having a Wonderful Christmastime' is one of the worst holiday songs, yet stations play it continuously, so someone must like it (other than the program directors).

One person who IS having a wonderful Christmastime is Sir Paul. He gets $400K every year in royalites for that one saccharin-enriched song and has banked $15M since composing it.

Curt Alliaume said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Curt Alliaume said...

You... you mean "I'm Too Sexy" wasn't the 11th-best song of all time in the 1994 survey? You've ruined my worldview!

Anonymous said...

This is probably why Imagine keeps getting top spots.

Phillip S said...

I dunno, the Rock is like 6'6". I think he is bigger. Or, wait, what did you mean?

Parrish said...

I remember "Billy Don't Be a Hero." My older sister got teary everytime she heard it. I could only shake my head in bewilderment.

Stoney said...

I always looked forward to Casey Kasem's year-end coundowns as well as WABC's randomized airing of their Top 100 (nothing but those songs 24/7 between Christmas and New Years) in the days of my youth. Later I would await Siskel & Ebert's year-end best and worst movies lists. (That's something that Roger Ebert REALLY began to loath doing in his last years.) At least AT40 had sales and airplay stats compiled by Billboard to back then up.

Slightly off, but I just wanted to mention that my favorite scene in last night's finale of "The Newsroom" was when Neal Sampat shut down the compiling of 'most overrated movies of all time' by that fat, curley dude who took over the website in his absence. (Everything else in the episode was, for me, a letdown.)

Ken, will you be doing any radio fill-in shows in the next few weeks? I did catch the ones you did last year.

Anonymous said...

Parrish said...
"I remember "Billy Don't Be a Hero." My older sister got teary everytime she heard it. I could only shake my head in bewilderment."

She did it because it's about a young man who has his whole life ahead of him, and he's supposed to marry his girl, then he doesn't listen to her when they ask for a volunteer to help save a bunch of his friends who were pinned down with enemy fire, and he gets shot in the head by the enemy.

So then they send her a letter to tell her what happened. She read it once, then threw it away, because she was disgusted that he didn't listen to her and now she's stuck all alone, like a moron.

Alan I said...

I'm a long time aficionado of your blog, and upon re-reading some very early posts I noticed a mention of a TV pilot written by the esteemed team of KL & DI starring the multi-talented Omid Djalili.

News just in that this may project may still go ahead. Is this true?

I'm sure hoping. I know the name of the Pilot but not sure if it's my place to mention it.

Bill Jones said...

Friday question for Ken -- I was wondering if you could talk frankly about "payola" in the radio industry. From what I know, record labels and radio stations got caught in pay-for-play scandals in the 1950s or so, but the practice lasted for decades beyond (including on MTV, and may still last today in both media). Did you ever witness or hear of such conduct while you were a DJ? Who did the labels try to bribe--station managers? Playlist supervisors? DJs? And was it with money or, um, other substances? Just wondering -- thanks!

Steve Bailey said...

What, no love for Mark Lindsay's "Arizona"?

CRL said...

What's interesting is that 'Billy, Don't Be A Hero' was first recorded by Paper Lace, so they could have been 2 for 2.

Brian Pressley said...

A music group to which I belong on Facebook ("No Hipsters Allowed: Total Rock Action") recently had a "top 40 of all time" poll, and the top three of all time, as tallied from about 170 respondents, were, if I'm not mistaken, "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys, "Waterloo Sunset" by the Kinks, "And Your Bird Can Sing" by the Beatles. It's the first such list I've ever taken seriously.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

...doing afternoon drive at KHJ:

The Real Nun Kneel

Covarr said...

I dunno, I'm a youngin' (25), and I would give the best song of all-time to "Don't Stop Me Now", by Queen (well before my time), and top sitcom to FRASIER (I was alive, but too young for it when it was new). It's just a matter of finding people who are passionate about TV or music or whatever the subject matter is, rather than people who are simply doing it because they needed a writing gig or something.

tb said...

Top 200 blogs, By Ken Levine 1st place!

Victor Velasco said...

KHJ is all Catholic; wow...guess they'll also bring back the slogan "Boss" Radio and maybe the Bill Drake jingle sung in a Gregorian chant

Yah Shure said...

Lyrics aside, I liked the production style on Paper Lace's original UK #1 "Billy - Don't Be A Hero," but that bland American cover by Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods is twenty floors below vanilla.

KDWB compiled an all-time 630 hits list in May, 1966, and not surprisingly, only two songs in the top 20 predated 1964: Marcie Blane's "Bobby's Girl" (#10) and the Kingsmen's "Louie, Louie (#15). But because the list was never counted down on-air, the all-postcard votes did manage to enliven the proceedings:

This was perhaps the only universe in which "The Ballad Of Irving" (#47) defeated "The Ballad Of The Green Berets" (#49) in the battle of the 1966 ballads. "Green Berets" did notch a victory over its next-highest military unit, George, Johnny & The Pilots' "Flying Blue Angels" (#589), a 1962 Hot 100 bubble-underer AWOL from even Rich Bro Radio. "The Battle Of New Orleans" just made the cut at 617.

The Surfaris reigned kings of the surf, even though "Surfer Joe" (#197) nosed out its own A-side, "Wipe Out" (#206). Caught in their wake: the Trashmen's hometown fave "Surfin' Bird" (200) and SoCalers Jan & Dean's "Surf City" (201) and the KDW-Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl" (202).

The best-showing locals were the Castaways at #90 with "Liar, Liar," a bigger hit in Hollywood than either Minneapolis or St. Paul. "The Crusher" (#327) was pinned by "Surfin' Bird" clone "Bird Dance Beat" (#301) and the High Spirits' "Turn On Your Love Light" on Soma (#102.) Somebody still remembered the Gestures' great "Run, Run, Run" (#533).

Notable *not* your usual "all time favorites" suspects:

612. "One Boy" - Joanie Sommers, 1960
584. "Winkin', Blinkin' & Nod - Simon Sisters, 1964
562. "442 Glenwood Avenue" - Pixies Three, 1964 (Minneapolis has a Glenwood Ave, but that address would now be in the middle of a parking ramp near Target Center.)
555. "Gone, Gone, Gone" - Everly Brothers, 1964
543. "Just Keep It Up" - Dee Clark, 1959
534. "I Can't Hear You" - Betty Everett, 1964 (out-shooped #599 "Shoop Shoop Song".)
522. "Wrong For Each Other" - Andy Williams, 1964
469. "Wait For Me" - The Playmates, 1958
459. "Gonzo" - James Booker, 1960
458. "Boom Boom" - John Lee Hooker, 1962
454. "Please Don't Talk To The Lifeguard" - Diane Ray, 1963
386. "Tonite, Tonite" - The Mello-Kings, 1960
362. "Calling Dr. Casey" - John D. Loudermilk, 1962
345. "Teach Me Tiger" - April Stevens, 1959
338. "Ghost Riders In The Sky" - The Ramrods, 1961
295. "Daughter" - The Blenders, 1963
240. "Bucket 'T'" - Ronny & The Daytonas, 1965
239. "Andrea" - The Sunrays, 1966
140. "Yesterday's Gone" - The Overlanders/Chad & Jeremy, 1964 (the Overlanders had gone top ten in the market)
101. "Sweet Pea" - Tommy Roe, 1966 (odd only because it had also come in at #385. Peaola, perhaps?)

The extremes:

630. "Greenfields" - Brothers Four, 1959
1. "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" - Rolling Stones, 1965


Quite a few of these bottom feeders followed KDWB's music director when he surfaced as PD of the market's first oldies station two years later.

The Big 630 All Time Hits List was mailed out in exchange for a SASE. The stamp affixed to my copy is a five-center. Holy flashback, Batman! (Neil Hefti, 1966 - #68).

Ben Kubelsky said...

1) Just watched the episode "Diane Meets Mom" again. Was there ever discussion of bringing back Nancy Marchand on "Frasier"? I realize she had died during the run of "Cheers," but then so had Frasier's father, so...

2) You mention disliking "Wonderful Christmastime" (agreed). How about John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"? I find that one overplayed, as well. How about The Beatles' "Christmastime Is Here Again"? Or George Harrison's "Ding Dong Ding Dong"?

blinky said...

Kenny baby!
You can't talk about a list and not show the list! Where is the payoff? Even better share a link to you in 1969 counting down the Top 5. Speaking of which, how did you like Top 5? Not a bad effort by C. Rock in my opinion.
SO based on this post my top 5:
1> Sherrie Baby (Greeting)
2> Ramble On (Post is all over the place)
3> Ain't too Proud to Beg (me asking)
4> Paperback Writer (you selling)
5> Honey (call back)

Cory said...

WLS would do it over Memorial Day (or was it Labor Day) weekend, and even as a kid, I hated the songs that were new and I knew wouldn't have any lasting power would be high up on the list. But every year it was Hey Jude at #1 and Stairway to Heaven at #2. I think it got to the point where people would just vote for those songs because they were always at the top of the list.

Of course, living in downstate Illinois, I could never get my hands on the lists they would print up of the weekly top 40 or the annual top 500.

Pat Reeder said...

I was the record librarian for TM Programming back when they used to provide music and consulting for seven radio formats and produce a lot of countdown-type specials that stations ran on holiday weekends. I was also in charge of finding all the songs for the massive oldies library, TM Gold Picks. Believe me, we took the choices and chart research very seriously because we didn't want a lot of stations questioning it and suing us.

I had to find the best possible copies of a lot of obscure records, and this was before CDs and digital remastering. It wasn't easy because a lot of reissues back then were on crappy recycled vinyl with scraps of labels in it or on "RCA Dynaflex" or had been "rechanneled to simulate stereo" or some other abomination. Even the early CDs we did have were often mastered by people who suddenly had lot of high end to play with and made everything sound tinny. And of course, some of those older hits in their original form sounded like, as our late producer Richard Bo colorfully put it, "hammered dog s**t." I think "Susie Darlin'" was recorded in Robin Luke's bedroom on a '60s-era home tape deck.

Despite having TM's huge record library at my disposal, I often had to track down multiple copies of records to find a really clean, original version. Luckily, I also had my own records, and I know how to handle vinyl, so even my oldest albums were in near-mint condition. I remember a particularly hard one to find was 10CC's "I'm Not In Love." It slowly fades in with a long, long orchestral chord that really shows up any pops, clicks or distortion. After buying several new copies that all stunk, I finally remembered I had an original copy of the album that I'd had for at least 10 years. I gave it to Bo and said I hoped he wouldn't have to do too much cleanup work on it. He said all he did was set the needle down at the beginning and lift it at the end, and that's the version that ended up on hundreds of radio stations.

Moral: Don't claim that vinyl is an inferior storage medium just because it gets dirty and scratched. If that happens, IT'S YOUR OWN DAMN FAULT!!!

Pat Reeder said...

PS - I'm absolutely with you on the "All-time greatest" lists written by people who don't know anything that happened before they hit puberty in 2007. It's one of my biggest pet peeves. Entertainment Weekly recently ran a "100 Best Comedies of All Time" list that had a lot of recent mediocre films and NOTHING by Buster Keaton. Whoever wrote that needs to be sent back to school. Start at kindergarten.

Metal Mickey said...

My favourite (or most hated) example of letting the public have a say, was UK movie magazine Empire's best movies of all-time poll a few years back, which somehow included "Superbad" in the top 200... remember, this wasn't a "best comedies" list, or "best of the 00's", but "best movies of all-time" - zeesh! A lot of people need to see a lot more movies...

Johnny Walker said...

Quick question, Ken: Have you seen Dan O'Shannon's new book, THE ADVENTURES OF MRS JESUS. If so, did you enjoy it?

Boomska316 said...

This has nothing to do with the topic, but I thought you might like to see this gem that someone put on YouTube:

AlaskaRay said...

You know that People Mag's list of most intriguing people of the year is bogus, because neither one of us has ever been on it.

DrBOP said...

Ken, if you decide to answer the possible Friday Question about "payola", please put the answer in a historical perspective of "what came before".
What I mean by that is two things:
1)"Payola", or paying to get particular pieces of music featured (in whatever format), has been going on in the "song-plugging business" since the first music scores were written; and the sheet music business was built on shady practices during its heyday (1880-1920). These practices then continued on into
the rise of recorded music vis-a-vis record (or department)store placement.
2)With the rise of modern radio, and as the DJ became the gatekeeper of what got more airplay, the situation was made more fertile by the refusal of radio station/network owners to pay the disc jockeys a living wage. And the owners' obtuse rationale was that the DJ's salary would be boosted by the under-the-table payola payments.
I know Alan Freed took it waaay too far, but for the great majority it was both simply the way things were done, and a way to keep bread on the table.
Sorry about length of comment, but it makes me mad to see these folks painted as being evil (yes, perhaps greedy in some cases). Mostly, they were just doing their job, within the rules of the game established LONG ago.
I would also be interested in what ways Ken feels that these practices still exist? Hard to pay off a software program.....or is it?

PS = Sure hope you're getting your annual Christmas baseball post ready to go :+)

Anonymous said...

This should probably go on the other Christmas Music post but here goes: Darlene Love's last Letterman appearance singing Christmas, Baby Please Come Home is on Friday.
Janice B.