Overnight Sensation
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What is THIS all about? Well, read on, dear viewer, and I'll 'splain it to you.

Throughout my days in radio, I had a constant argument with programmers about what to include in the "archives." Which "oldies," if you will, to play, and which ones to discard forever.

Back in the Stone Age (or should I say the "Rock Age," nyuk), there seemed to be a general line of thinking that you followed the national charts to determine which songs to archive.

This was in the days before the national trade publications, such as Billboard, needed a "hazardous waste" warning on their covers, you understand. But, I digress.

Under this form of programming, the age, and the chart peak, of a record determined if it was placed in the oldies file or not. There were variances, but it seemed to usually follow a pattern. For the most recent ones, those songs that made the national Top Ten would be archived.

For songs a few years older, then only those that made the Top Three of the national charts would continue in the archives. And, older than that, it had to be a #1 song to continue to be played.

I always argued that there are a few flaws in that rationale. There are several occasions, if you were to go back and look through the charts for a given week, that there would be an absolute logjam at the top.

A classic example of this would be the end of 1968, when the Beatles' "Hey Jude," their biggest-ever hit in the U.S., spend nine weeks at the top of the charts.

Once "Hey Jude" finally slipped from #1 to #2, the top spot was taken by Marvin Gaye's rendition of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," one of the biggest hits in the history of Motown Records. That single spent eight weeks atop the chart.

So, it just so happened that you had not one, but two absolute monster records at the top of the charts at the same time. So, for four months, one of these two songs was at #1, and, for most of that period, the other was at #2.

Think about all the great hits that couldn't break that battle royal at the top of the charts. If any of those records had been released three months prior to "Hey Jude," or three months after "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," then those tunes may have topped the charts rather easily.

So, using that Top Ten-Top Three-#1 method fails to include one important factor: competition. The 60s, and the first half of the 70s, were the heyday for Top 40 radio. Anyone who was anyone was there back then, with relatively few exceptions.

Another facet of this equation to be considered, when talking about this time period, is that the smaller-market stations were important in the overall picture then. Many of these stations, and I worked at a couple of 'em, were called "starter stations."

These stations had larger, and far less restricted, playlists than the "top" stations in the major markets, and would often "take a chance" on a record, just due to good buzz about the artist or the simple fact that the music director or program director thought it was a good record that deserved a chance.

The format was called "Top 40," but many stations, particularly the smaller ones, had current playlists of 60 or more songs. Some were at the top of the charts, and some had just barely entered them. It was varied, it was healthy, and it was a lot of fun to listen to.

It seemed that the record companies would often award gold record plaques to the stations in the major markets, when, often times, it was those stations in the "hinterlands" who created the demand for the records in the first place. So, yes, those smaller, "starter" stations were, to a degree, the unsung heroes of the business.

Nowadays, it's a different ballgame. The smaller stations aren't any more likely to add something new than the larger ones, unless there's a major push by the artist's label.

And, a huge obstacle faced by labels and artists alike these days is the mass ownership of stations by conglomerates. When you have one company that owns 200 or 300 stations, this is not a good thing for the artists, the labels, and, ultimately, the audience.

Conglomerates go for the lowest common denominator. The safest way out, every time. This means that the "oldies" station in the little town in western Minnesota is playing the exact same songs that the same type station is playing in eastern Washington. Because all of the programming decisions are made at the corporate level.

And, of course, those conglomerates utilize the services of high-priced "consultants," who wouldn't know a hit if you gave 'em one with a baseball bat. And many of them deserve such a hit, for their short-sightedness.

What this ultimately means, of course, is a lot of great records get left by the wayside, and what you hear instead is a small number of the same songs that have already been worn out, due to the tri-part formula that I mentioned earlier. Yes, they are great, but I don't need to hear each one of them six times a week, not when it's 35 years old.

Of course, these consultants like to boast of doing "research," callouts and the like. How many times have you been called by a researcher representing a radio station or a company that owns a few hundred of them? And, how do these people doing these callouts - assuming they actually are doing such things - even know that the person they're talking to even listens to the format that they're "researching?"

I loved request lines when I was in the business; I enjoyed that feedback from the people. But, those phone contacts represented a very small percentage of the audience in general. It was a good way to measure buzz about a new song just added, or one that should be added.

Ultimately, it comes down to some sort of personal preference on the part of the consultant, I would dare say. Besides, using that Top Ten-Top Three-#1 formula, you'd never hear "Stairway To Heaven," for example, because that song was never a single. And, you wouldn't hear "My Generation," because it peaked at a paltry #74 on the singles chart. But, are these songs classics? Of course they are. And there are dozens, if not hundreds, more that are, or should be.

Your journey into this little section of the Zone is devoted to some of those records and/or artists that, for whatever reason, never got their "due." A few of these songs actually were huge hits, but have been forgotten by radio in subsequent years.

We've separated them by decade, as you can see above, and we hope you'll enjoy perusing through the lists and remembering these. The unfortunate part is that we can't actually play them for you here, which might trigger a memory ("Yes! I remember that!") or leave you wondering ("Why the heck wasn't that a hit?").

In a sense, it's our version of the old Red Buttons routine from the Dean Martin "roasts" programs, as he talked about people that "never got a dinner."

In addition to the lists, we've tried to provide some examples of currently-available CDs by many of the acts. All covers, of course, are the property of their respective labels and we claim no ownership whatsoever (there; now maybe the lawyers are happy). With the here today-gone tomorrow nature of reissues, however, some of these releases may vanish as quickly as they reappear. So, my advice is grab 'em now, if you want 'em.

This is a list of tunes that, were your local "oldies" or "classic rock" station (whatever it likes to call itself) had in their archives, it would go far to open up the lid and let a little air into that stagnant formatting. This is a list primarily for those of us who love the music. And would like to hear more of it on the radio, just as we used to.

 

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