Originally posted November 22, 2013 for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.
Good Friday evening, and welcome to Top 10 Flashback. We’re going back a bit further than usual this week and featuring music that will mostly be “before your time,” but I think you’ll understand. Tonight, on this solemn anniversary of one of the darkest days in America, we will jump on the bandwagon and reach back 50 years to see what AM Top 40 radio was playing before the music stopped that afternoon. It’s both historically significant and a good snapshot of what Americans were listening to just before the Beatles came here.
First of all, set aside a little time for this:
This is what Dallas radio listeners heard on 1190 KLIF that day. It starts with Kennedy’s arrival at Love Field, then…well, you know the rest. When the news of the shooting first broke, KLIF was just going about its business, and for a while you’ll hear what Top 40 radio sounded like a half century ago – music (scoped; you only hear the intros and outros), news, commercials, heavy reverb, upbeat personality DJ. The first report interrupted “I Have A Boyfriend” by the Chiffons (wanted to post video, but it’s blocked by EMI); if, as some say, our country lost its innocence that day, you couldn’t ask for a better metaphor. (If you want to cut to the chase, skip to 54:00, but I recommend going back a little to 51:00.) As the station jumps back and forth between good-time Top 40 and major breaking news, the effect is surreal – like listening to a real-life “War Of The Worlds.” When they realized what they were dealing with, they went to all news, all the time, and played only easy listening music during breaks in the coverage. Imagine – a Top 40 station with a fully staffed news department that could go into crisis mode this quickly. That was the norm 50 years ago. When 9/11 happened, most music stations either simulcasted their news/talk AM sister station if they had one, or audio from CNN. You can thank companies like Clear Channel for that. Some KLIF staff actually had to testify before the Warren Commission – Jack Ruby hung out at the station regularly, and was there Saturday night, hours before Oswald was killed. They also subpoenaed the tape of the news coverage you’ll hear in the video.
Anyhow, here are the top ten songs from 50 years ago today according to KLIF in Dallas. Survey actually dated November 23, 1963, but nobody was listening to any music that day anyway.
Big Blue Diamond – Gene Summers
I had never heard this song before playing the video. Even today, most hit songs are set aside after they’ve run their course, never to be heard on the radio again. This one sounds like a 50’s throwback; I learned that it’s been covered many times over the years.
Bossa Nova Baby/Witchcraft – Elvis Presley
A double-sided hit from the “bad Elvis movie” years. “Bossa Nova Baby” was featured in “Fun In Acapulco.” It’s true what they say – Elvis was never the same after his stint in the Army, but the ’68 comeback special did make him relevant again.
Dominique – The Singing Nun
It’s kind of hard to fathom now, but this was a #1 worldwide smash. The song was played a lot during that somber weekend as radio stations scrambled to find music they thought appropriate. The Singing Nun, a/k/a Jeanine Deckers, committed suicide in 1985.
Drip Drop – Dion
Dion DiMucci, now with no Belmonts, kept the doo-wop flame lit until the Beatles snuffed it out. This was his last significant hit in America until, oddly enough, “Abraham, Martin, and John” in 1968.
We Belong Together – Jimmy Velvet
Another 50’s throwback. While I’ve heard the song before, I haven’t heard this version. I’m imagining a young couple falling in love under the stars while this is playing…
Be True To Your School – The Beach Boys
All right, there’s a decent chance you might actually know this one. The Beach Boys were just getting warmed up.
Deep Purple – Nino Tempo & April Stevens
I really like this song. It makes me think of an innocent, simpler time I never got to experience. This was a brother and sister act, and when April Stevens speaks the lyrics in the middle, she sounds like a sweet teenager, but she was actually 34 years old. The song won a Grammy for best rock & roll record.
I’m Leaving It Up To You – Dale & Grace
This song’s okay for what it is – an artifact of a much different time. Ruined by Donny & Marie a decade later.
Since I Fell For You – Lenny Welch
Beautiful, timeless ballad. You can really feel the pain in his voice. Easily the best song on this list.
And now, the #1 song on The Mighty 1190, KLIF Dallas, on that fateful day of November 22, 1963, is:
This was the next to last song heard before KLIF went into all-news mode. The last one was Gene McDaniels’s “Point Of No Return.” Wow.
If you want to know more about what went on at KLIF that day, read this: http://karws.gso.uri.edu/Marsh/Jfk-conspiracy/pgtwo.html
As for me, I know exactly where I was when JFK was assassinated. I was getting my diaper changed while my mother watched “As The World Turns.”