WLS, Chicago, Il.
Increase Records INCD-1970/MSD-35498
Released October, 1995 through MCA Special Markets and Products in association with K-Tel and Increase Records.
Note: Ron Jacobs was not involved with this album.

Resume/Where is he now? He's the head of Kris Erik Stevens Productions, and for several years was the host of the weekly RADIO SUPER HEROES series in syndication for Radio Spirits.

Kris Erik Stevens -- WLS opening Spirit in the Sky -- Norman Greenbaum Sears Record Sale commercial March of Dimes commercial Weather/WLS sports Drowning in the Sea of Love -- Joe Simon Joe Woods for Cook County Board commercial WLS promo Green-Eyed Lady -- Sugar Loaf WLS promo Gypsy Woman -- Brian Hyland Coke commercial Vehicle -- Ides of March Pantry Food Mart commercial WLS More Music promo One Less Bell to Answer -- The Fifth Dimension WLS News Special 89 Hour Color TV WLS promo Rock of Chicago Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You -- Wilson Pickett Eastern Airlines commercial Big Brothers of Chicago public service commercial WLS Number One Oldie: Will You Love Me Tomorrow -- The Shirelles Windy City weather National Conference of Christians and Jews public service commercial Carling Black Label commercial Kris Erik Stevens promo Pepperidge Farm commercial Sunshine -- Jonathan Edwards George W. Dunne political commercial Celebrate -- Three Dog Night Chicago Today commercial New World Coming -- Mama Cass

They were talking about weightier things, the Temptations were, riots and the environment and Vietnam and so forth, but their "Ball of Confusion" didn't just describe the world in 1970. It was also a pretty good metaphor for the state of the music industry and top 40 radio at the time.

It would have been simple if every 14-year-old had heard "Whole Lotta Love" in 1969, decided that top 40 radio as they'd known it was basically irrelevant, and made a beeline for the FM rock side. But that didn't happen - for one thing, most kids had to hear "Whole Lotta Love" on AM becuase there wasn't an FM rocker in their market yet. Besides, transitions take time. Remember that Doris Day was still having top 10 hits even after Elvis went into the Army.

That's why top 40 spent the next five years looking over its shoulder at rock radio but not, until the end, looking up at its rival. And that's why, during that time, almost anything went.

In the early 70's, you could say that top 40 tried to become FM rock radio and you'd be right. Listen to a tape of nights on KHJ, L.A.'s original "Boss Radio," in the early 70's and you'll hear a ton of album cuts - things that wouldn't even make the cut at classic rock radio today. You could say that top 40 radio went more bubblegum than ever in 1970 and, given the Osmonds, The Partridge Family, the Poppy Family, Bobby Sherman, Tony Orlando & Dawn, The Archies, and the Brotherhood of Man/White Plains/Edison Lighthouse/Pipkins (who were actually one British studio group), you'd be right, too.

There were a lot of chart acts in the early '70s that could work both sides of the dial. Chicago, The Guess Who, and especially Three Dog Night all did a pretty good job of living a double life for a while. And just like a lot of the commercial attempts to cash in on "Generation X" already look bogus, there was also much in the early 70s that was "hippie" without ever being "heavy."

After all, nothing could be more achetypically early 70s hippie than a song about a guy, his gal, and their dog truckin' aimlessly around the country, until you conside that the song in question was "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo." We all know how to categorize Lobo now, but it wasn't so simple then.

The same goes for Olivia Newton-John covering Bob Dylan, the Osmonds copping the guitar riff from "Immigrant Song" for "Hold Her Tight," or, for that matter, the entire singer-songwriter movement. James Taylor and Carole King seemed pretty heavy at the time; now you're most likely to hear them on your market's "Lite FM" station.

There was similar confusion in radio itself. In 1970, the shot heard around the broadcast industry wasn't fired by an FM rock station. It was fired by a top 40 Am station in San Diego that responded to the seeming irrelevance of screaming DJs by screaming even louder. San Diego's KCBQ threw out the jingles that had gone between every record and took a lot of its vocabulary from the hippie movement -- i.e., "Boogie on over to the phone and rip me off for your 'Keep on Truckin' Q-Shirt!!!" -- and in doing so, energized top 40 AM radio to fight on for at least another three to four years.

And if you were Kris Erik Stevens, night-time dominator at WLS, Chicago's 50,000 watt blowtorch, you probably didn't know there was a problem aanyway. If WLS was any less of a dominant force in the early 70s than before, why was it hard for Kris to make it from the elevator of the Stone Container Building to his Corvette at night without running a gauntlet of female admirers? Why was he, by his recollection, No. 1 at night in Nashville? No.1 at night in Amarillo?

Stevens joined WLS in 1969, just as the AM blowtorch was shedding a lot of the DJs who ahd been there since its conversion from country to top 40 in the early '60s. WLS was never as overbearing as KCBQ -- it was always the thinking man's screaming top 40 station - but aaround that time, PD John Rook picked up WLS' tempo, streamlined its presentation, and traded its old jingles featuring the Anita Kerr Singers for ballsier ones.

What you'll hear on this volume represents Stevens on WLS in the years 1970-1972. At the beginning of that era, WLS was "The Big 89." (Detroit's equally monstrous CKLW was the "Big 8." KHJ, by that time, was the "Big 93.") By 1971, WLS had changed slogans and jingle packages again, becoming "The Rock of Chicago." You won't hear WCFL, Chicago's other 50,000 watt blowtorch, on this album, but it's always hovering just in the background. "Super 'CFL" went toe-to-toe with WLS - even stealing Stevens away at one point - until becoming one of the first top 40 AMs to throw in the towel in 1976.

The record that kicks off this volume represents 1970's confusion as well as any.+ On paper, Mama Cass' "New World Coming" is a hippie manifesto - "There's a new world coming/This one's coming to an end." On wax, however, it's straight MOR from the Brill Building pens of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill, and seems to have had an undue influence on Barry Manilow's "Daybreak" some seven years later. cass had the biggest solo hit of any of the former Mamas & Papas - 1968's "Dream a Little Dream of Me" - before turning out a string of easygoing singles in a similar vein to this one: "It's Getting Better," "Make Your Own Kind of Music," and the unfortunately titled "A Song That Never Comes." Cass would collaborate with Dave Mason on an LP, and take part in an unsuccessful Mamas & Papas reunion before her mysterious death in a London hotel room - heart attack? ham sandwich? worse? - in 1974.

On the R&B side, there was definitely a new world in the making in 1970. Contrary to popular belief, Motown's hit assembly line didn't grind to a halt with the advent of the hippie era: Norman Whitfield's Temptation hits, Edwin Starr's "War," and the Jackson 5's four #1 hits in 1970 all would have borne that out, even if Berry Gordy hadn't finally decided to put Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" out after all. But the seat of power did shift from Detroit to Philadelphia in the early '70s, especially after Motown left town anyway.

Philly was where Wilson Pickett went to revive his career in the early '70s. After a series of (usually) ill-advised pop covers in the late '60s (i.e., "Sugar, Sugar"), Pickett called on Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, then in the process of making the transition from hired guns (Jerry Butler, Dusty Springfield, Archie Bell & The Drells) back to label magnates (The O'Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, Billy Paul, etc.) and defining the Philly sound in the process. "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" is the lightest, jauntiest Pickett hit ever, but that's because of the track and not because Picktt's flamethrowin' vocals are toned down any. Pickett next headed to Muscle Shoals and cranked out a few more terrific singles, including a (literally) incendiary cover of Free's "Fire and Water" before leaving Atlantic records and sinking into a morass of personal and legal problems.

Joe Simon's career is associated with another 50,000 watt powerhouse, WLAC Nashville. Whether it was Bob Seger growing up with WLAC in Ann Arbor - where it came in better at night than the Dteroit R&B stations - or Millie Jackson hearing WLAC in Augusta, Ga., after the R&B stations in her town had signed off, WLAC was an influence on more than one artist, but it was influential for Simon was managed by legendary WLAC DJ John Richbourg, one of the guys who hawked baby chicks and White Rose Petroleum Jelly to a nationwide audience and may have been the closest thing Amercian radio had to a Wolfman Jack. Richbourg himself produced Simon, fashioning him as a deep soul man and frquently going to the country charts for material (Simon's earliest R&B #1 was a cover of Waylon Jennings' "The Chokin' Kind"), before turning over the keys to Gamble & Huff in late '71. Again, they came up with a lighter, less greasy Simon sound - keeping the singer's trademark vocal tension, but changing the groove to something airier for "Drowning In The Sea Of Love."

It would have been harder to come up with a lighter 5th Dimension record than "One Less Bell To Answer." The Burt Bacharach/hal David song - originally recorded by Keely Smith (of Louis Prima duet fame) in the late '60s - is always thought of as the on where the group made that hard right turn toward Vegas MOR territory, losing any R&B credibility they might have managed to scrape together in between Jim Webb and Laura Nyro covers. Yet, 25 years later, "One Less Bell To Answer" is the one 5th Dimension song that gets a significant number of requests at stations specializing in R&B oldies. I once asked a listener why and she told me that it was because Marilyn McCoo clearly sounded like she'd been done wrong by the man involved and if that wasn't the essence of R&B, what was? The 5th Dimension - minus Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr. - would later make an attempt to head off Diana Ross by covering "Love hangover" before she released it as a single - not that covering Diana gives you automatic R&B credentials either - before releasing their last chart single on Motown in the late '70s.

The early '70s were banner years for "Jesus rock," represented by everything from George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" to B.J. Thomas' "Mighty Clouds of Joy" to the singles from "Jesus Christ Superstar" to Judy Collins' improbable hit with an acapella "Amazing Grace" to Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky." Thomas would later make the transition to the Christian pop cahrts, but I had a friend in those circles tell me that most of the other Jesus rock hits wouldn't qualify, especially "Spirit in the Sky," because Greenbaum's contention that "I've never been a sinner/I've never sinned/I've got a friend in Jesus" denies a key tenet of Christian theology: that man is conceived in original sin and must work, unsuccessfully, toward perfection in Christ. Greenbaum, whose previous chart appearance had been on Dr. West & The Medicine Show's mid charter, "The Eggplant That Ate Chicago," was produced by Bay Area legend Eric Jacobsen, whose career spanned the Lovin' Spoonful to Chris Isaak.

Sugarloaf's "Green-Eyed Lady" is another one of those records that straddles the line between the hippie and the straight world - enough heaviness and mysticism for the heads - a friend remembers seeing them in Detroit opening for Styx and Roxy Music (!) - but not enough credibility to make for a long career. Sugarloaf's Jerry Corbetta would, however, have the last laugh about being a one-hit wonder, coming back in 1974 with a great single about being a one-hit wonder, the much bubblegummier "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You."

Jim Peterik and the Ides of March were hometown heroes at WLS, having already bounced from label to label and style to style several times before breaking through with the Blood, Sweat and Tears influenced "Vehicle." Peterik, of course, would resurface in the early-to-mid '80s as the leader of Survivor, but the WLS connection here is that the Ides' Frankie Rand produced Kris Erik Stevens' one shot at pop atardom, a song called "Training Wheels" that Stevens says went top five in Detroit.

One of the things that inevitably happens during a period of transition is that records that wouldn't have been mass-appeal before or after manage to break through, and there's always a quasi-folk record in there somewhere. In 1979, it was Steve Forbert's "Romeo's Tune." In 1995, also a time of great confusion at top 40 radio, it's Freedy Johnston's "Bad Reputation." And in 1972, there was Jonathan Edwards's "Sunshine." Even in the singer-songwriter era, "Sunshine" wasn't the kind of song you'd expect 12-year-olds to buy, unless they just like hearing the word "damned" on the radio. Others, however, found Edwards' verbal assault on "Vietnam, the draft board, my father, and the police" to be a pretty good channel for their own frustrations. Edwards, originally a bluegrass artist, continues to record as a folkie, also venturing into country for awhile in the late '80s/early '90s.

Three Dog Night's "Celebrate" is one of the rare songs by the band that didn't already exist somewhere on vinyl. Three Dog Night was known for its covers - often whipping them together just in time to snuff out competitors like Leo Sayer's "The Show Must Go On" or B. W. Stevenson's version of "Shambala" or Greyhound's reggae orignal of "Black and White" - but "Celebrate" actually came to them in demo form from songwrires Alan Gordon & Gary Bonner (also known for the Turtles' "Happy Together," "She'd Rather Be With Me," and "She's My Girl") who orininally envisioned it as a slower number called "Celebrity Ball." Three Dog Night's string of hits lasted through the mid-'70s. They recorded again briefly in the mid-'80s. Now Cory Wells and Danny Hutton, two of the three original leads, are touring together again.

For the few early '60s pop stars who had some how managed to withstand the British invasion, surviving the hippie years was harder still. The late Del Shannon hung in there by working with other artists, first arranging Smith's rocked-up version of "Baby, It's You," then producing Brian Hyland's simmering, midtempo take on the Impressions' "Gypsy Woman." Writer Mike McDowell, who has interviewed both Hyland and Shannon, claims the bassline in Hyland's version is stolen from The Archies' "Sugar Sugar." There's also a cut on Hyland's "Gypsy Woman" LP called "Mail Order Gun" about the JFK assassination - which Hyland witnessed first-hand while on tour in Dallas - which is light years removed from "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini."

As for the women who gave us the original "Baby, It's You," The Shirelles' careers were about to receive a boost in the early '70s from rock promoter Richard Nader whose revival pop tour packages were one of the first sightings of nostalgia for all things '50s-related and paved the way for "Grease" on Broadway in 1972 and "American Graffiti" in the movie theaters 18 months after that. "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," their breakthrough hit, as well as the breakthrough for Gerry Goffin and Carole King, is included here as this hour's "WLS Yesterday" record.

As the decade turned, the notion of a wave of nostalgia for The Shirelles seemed as likely as, well, the notion of a wave of nostalgia for '70s pop. Over the last two years, however, oldies stations specializing in the '70s instead of the '50s and '60s have popped up across the country. (Chicago was one of the first markets to get one, by the way.) That in itself proves that top 40 radio was still hanging in there in the early '70s, because if it hadn't, there wouldn't be anything for a '70s pop oldies station to play. Top 40 in the early '70s was only dented. If you really want to see the format smashed to bits, look at it today when many cities, including Chicago, don't have a top 40 station per se.

Stevens and another of WLS' stars, "Superjock" Larry Lujack, crossed the street to WCFL shortly after the last of these tapes were made. Lujack came back after "Super 'CFL"'s demise, but Stevens headed to California and tried his hand at acting. Now he's heard as the voice of stations nationwide and has, at various times, also been the voice of Orkin, Pontiac, Sherwin-Williams, and scores of others. He's also back on the airwaves in Chicago as the voice of WPWR-TV and, in the late '80s, had the now-ironic distinction of co-hosting a syndicated radio show with a former football legend called, "Breakfast with O.J."

The early '70s lineup - Art Roberts, Chuck Buell, Joel Sebastian, Steve Lundy, J.J. Jeffries, and Jerry Kaye among them - were the nucleus of the WLS staff until the early '80s when the station finally made a transition from top 40 to AC and then to the talk of Chicago, making it one of the last to do so. Until 1982, WLS had never been beaten by an FM top 40 station.
--Sean Ross, Program Director, WGCI-AM ("Dustyradio 1390"), Chicago, 1995.

+ - Actually, that's the song that closes this Cruisin' volume. - Cruisemeister Lee.

Norman Greenbaum courtesy of Trans/Tone Productions. Joe Simon courtesy of Ace Records, Ltd. Sugarloaf courtesy of EMI Records, USA, a division of ERG, under license from CEMA Special Markets, Courtesy of EMI Music Canada, produced by Frank Slay. Ides of March under license from Warner Bros. Records, Inc. The 5th Dimension courtesy of BMG Music Canada, Inc., under license from Arista Records, Inc. Wilson Pickett and Jonathan Edwards produced under license from Atlantic Recording Corporation. The Shirelles courtesy of Highland Music, Inc., by arrangement with Celebrity Licensing, Inc. Brian Hyland and Mama Cass courtesy of MCA Records, Inc. This compilation distributed by K-Tel International, Plymouth, MN 55447/Increase Records, Reseda, CA 91335. (P)1995, MCA Records, Inc., Universal City, CA 91608.

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