I’ve been making playlists for the past couple of years, tributes to specific eras/moments of music on specific radio stations, based on my memories of said station at a particular time, or playlists, or airchecks, or combos/all of the above. And it’s time that I convert some of those (which I craft in my iTunes — call me old school, ’cause I most definitely am) to Spotify and share, and share with you the whys and wherefores, the stories behind ’em. Ergo, “Radio Romance,” which I’m planning to make a series. Here’s the first playlist.
I have a real romance for what (terrestrial) radio used to be, and because of that, I spend a little bit of time searching for and listening to airchecks on airchexx.com, It’s a site devoted to nothing but airchecks of classic (and sometimes not) jocks, stations, eras, both scoped (meaning the songs are removed, for copyright reasons) and unscoped.
Recently, looking for airchecks from R&B stations (most are top 40 or A/C), I came across this barnburner of a day-long composite from WGCI AM/FM, Chicago. At the time, ‘GCI was THE R&B station in Chicago; competitor WBMX had just recently slid their format from top 40 to (mostly) R&B, and were billing themselves as “the new ‘BMX” and “Chicago’s freshest station,” which you can hear in this composite, which I’m pretty sure was recorded the same week as that from WGCI. That said, I think that WGCI actually sounds both fresher and much hotter. (Also, no offense, but ‘BMX morning driver Dan Shannon can’t hold a candle to ‘GCI’s late Bob Wall, a true legend of radio — plus, ‘GCI had in its stable of jocks the late, legendary Yvonne Daniels, the uber-legendary Tom Joyner, and the late, legendary Doug Banks!)
Summer/fall ’86 isn’t exactly known as a prime time for top 40: the #1 pop song this week, at the end of August, was Steve fucking Winwood’s “Higher Love.” #1 R&B, however, was Billy Ocean’s sumptuous “Love Zone,” his best-ever single. And check out the rest of the R&B top 25:
There’s Gwen Guthrie, headed to the top in her first visit to the top 15; she’d never make the top 50 again, but what a classic she graced #1 with. Luther, hitting the top 3 as easy as breathing, with a soundtrack single from Ruthless People (of all things). (He’d go on to have his second and third #1s with his next two singles, the classic “Stop to Love” and the Gregory Hines duet “There’s Nothing Better Than Love.”) Anita Baker’s “HI I’M A STAR NOW” hello with “Sweet Love,” down from its runner-up peak, where it was stopped by the Jones Girls’ Shirley Jones, with her debut solo single “Do You Get Enough Love” (which I think was the final chart-topper on Philadelphia International Records).
Then there’s Patti LaBelle’s follow-up to the #1 “On My Own” at #8, and Prince’s follow-up to the #1 “Kiss” at #19, and LaBelle’s duet partner Michael McDonald one notch higher with his Running Scared soundtrack hit. (Klymaxx’s own Running Scared single was stuck down at #43, a bigger pop than R&B hit.) Hip hop, still fairly nascent chart-wise, comes from the likes of Whodini (#13, and a huge hit at WBMX), Run-D.M.C. (#15, heading for #8; previous single “My Adidas” hit #5), and Doug E. Fresh (#20). (Over on the album chart, however, Whodini’s at #7, and Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell was spending its third week at #1.)
Jam & Lewis are represented in this top 25 with the third single from Janet Jackson’s Control (#17, following up two #1s), and and the second from the S.O.S. Band’s Sands of Time (#14 and at its peak, following up a #2) but on the WGCI composite, their sound is all over it. Not only is “When I Think of You” played twice (and prior single “Nasty” as a recurrent), but so is “Borrowed Love,” along with recurrents from Alexander O’Neal (late spring’s #8 “What’s Missing”) and Cherrelle (winter’s #26 “You Look Good to Me,” which jams like a mutha). And along with “Kiss,” Prince’s purple fingerprints are all over this composite: there’s Ta Mara & the Seen’s recurrent “Affecttion” [sic], a #19 single from late winter (produced by Jesse Johnson) (also one of 9 identifiable songs not on Spotify), and Sheila E.’s gold title “The Glamorous Life” from ’84.
Which brings up something else: WGCI’s recurrent and gold choices are, frankly, mostly amazing. Sure, there’s Diana Ross’s “Missing You” (an 8am top of the hour choice?!), Quincy Jones’ “One Hundred Ways,” and Commodores’ “Three Times a Lady” — I don’t really need to hear any of those again. But then, along with the older songs I’ve already mentioned, there’s titles like Peabo Bryson’s late ’81 #6 “Let the Feeling Flow,” the Bar-Kays’ 1982 album cut “Anticipation,” the title track from Luther’s 1985 album The Night I Fell in Love, also an album cut (!), and the Temptations’ “Do You Really Love Your Baby,” a #14 record from the start of the year.
And then. Then. There’s a record that never even made the R&B top 100, but WGCI played at least twice (and likely more) on this day in August of 1986, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk and Jessie Saunders’ Chicago house CLASSIC (I can’t scream that loudly enough) “Love Can’t Turn Around,” which would become the first such record to make the UK top 10, but never even bothered the US charts (except for the Dance Club Play listings). At 35:30 in the composite, you can even hear it topping the (I think) 4pm hour, with Joyner subverting his usual “Am I jammin’ the box or what?” to “Am I jackin’ the house or what?” to open the song. Granted, WGCI was running regular “hot mixes” by top Chicago DJs at the time, but still, to hear a record as astounding as “Love Can’t Turn Around” in the mix of an R&B station at this time is kinda shocking, in the best possible way.
The other songs heard in the composite which aren’t on Spotify, along with their chart peaks:
-Bobby Jimmy & the Critters’ “Roaches” (#27, a parody of Timex Social Club’s “Rumors”)
-New Edition’s cover of the Penguins’ 1954 #1 “Earth Angel” (#3, from The Karate Kid II)
-Anthony and the Camp’s “What I Like” (#80, but a big hit on both WGCI and WBMX)
-James (D Train) Williams, “You Are Everything” (#53, played with Joyner pointing it out as new music)
-Rodney Franklin, “Look What’s Showing Through” (#59)
-L.A. Dream Team, “Nursery Rhymes” (#50, a rap novelty)
-Oliver Cheatham, “S.O.S.” (#35)