My profile on a now-defunct site said that one of my earliest memories of music involved sitting in the backseat of my parents’ avocado green late-60s Chevy Malibu listening endlessly to 93KHJ while stuck in traffic in Los Angeles. The Chevy Malibu, with its black top and black vinyl seats, looked like this:
KHJ ruled the roost in Los Angeles for many years. Its Boss Radio format was copied all over the country:
On May 3, 1965, KHJ was the site chosen for the birth of the new format designed by Bill Drake and Gene Chenault. Ron Jacobs was selected as the first Program Director. BOSS RADIO utilized a tight rotation, top drawer talent, and the elimination of almost all non-essential talk. The Johnny Mann Singers’ jingles didn’t hurt either. Within months, the format spread from coast to coast, and Boss Radio was the king in most markets.
The blogsite 93 KHJ/Boss Radio collects an abundant amount of old Boss Radio material, including images of the station’s weekly Top 30 “Records In Southern California.” These weekly Top 30 lists were available for years “wherever records are sold.” Back then, that included department stores. I remember picking them up at the May Company on Pico Boulevard.
The top songs were, of course, played several times a day. Spending a lot of time in the car, or listening to KHJ at home with the flu, would sear those songs forever into your memory.
It wasn’t just repetition that glued those songs to your mind. It was also the nature of the two-and-a-half minute pop song of the-late 60s and early-70s. They were hooks and melody, hooks and melody, hooks and melody. They were intended to stay in your mind for hours, days and weeks.
“Happy Together” by The Turtles was No. 1.
“Ruby Tuesday” by The Rolling Stones was No. 3.
“There’s A Kind Of Hush/No Milk Today” by Herman’s Hermits was No. 7 (although “No Milk Today” is the vastly superior track).
“I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” by The Electric Prunes was No. 10.
“Gimme Some Lovin'” by The Spencer Davis Group was No. 17.
“(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” by The Blues Magoos was No. 23.
The greatest double-sided single of all-time, “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever,” debuted on the chart that week at No. 13.
The following week saw the debut on the chart of “Live” by The Merry-Go-Round, one of the greatest pieces of Southern California “sunshine pop” ever put to wax.
Just reading that list, and looking at other late-60s, early-70s lists on the Boss Radio site, will cause an endless number of songs to run through your mind for a very long time.
This all changed by the mid-70s. Melodic rock on the AM dial was replaced by Bloat Rock (Boston, Kansas, Supertramp), Cock Rock (Foreigner) and Plain Old Boring Rock (Bad Company). Kiss and Queen are certifiable geniuses in comparison. Punk and New Wave were cultural imperatives. They just had to happen.
Fast-forward to today. A company called Zikera has created a wonderful application for iOS and Windows 8 devices called “Groove.” Among other things, it sans your devices to create “Groovy Mixes” of songs that work well together based, in part, on data supplied by Last.fm users. It has become my most used “app” since it automatically creates an endless array of playlists.
I was driving to work the other day and a particular “Groovy Mix” played three consecutive songs that, combined, perfectly capture the essence of the melodic rock that comprised the Boss Radio of the late-60s and early-70s.
The aptly named “Pop Sound” by The Masticators came up first. The Masticators were a late-90s Los Angelers-based Power Pop band made up, in part, by Lisa Mychols, about whom I wrote recently. Futureman Records has issued a 33-track compendium of the band’s entire recorded output. Its worth checking out in its entirety for some of the tightest, most head-bopping-est Power Pop around. “Pop Sound” is just that — a joyous, three-chord celebration of rhythm and melody anchored by Mychols’ confident, sexy vocals and a driving, basic beat:
Next up was “Pete Ham” by Crash Into June, a tribute to the late Badfinger singer/songwriter/guitarist. It begins with this bit of resonance: “What’s that song it sounds like heaven/I heard it once when I was seven/You could say it reminds me of summer days/Summer days.” True that, true that. It continues shortly later: “It’s got the 60’s British feeling/Hooks that keep me on the ceiling/I hear it now, its got that pure infectious sound/It keeps my head all spinning around/Spinning around.”
“Pete Ham” is three-and-a-half minutes of pure jangle pop perfection:
The final song in my commuting trilogy was “She Dreams,” from Michael Carpenter’s 1999 debut Baby. “She Dreams” is perfect, joyful “sunshine pop” that gives “Live” a run for its money:
So, there you have it. The old AM rock radio groove hasn’t disappeared in these days of overly processed, mechanical dance pop. You just have to know where to find it. When you do, you will be transported to another place