Soundtrack to the ride of a lifetime

One of the girls was still in high school, the other not long out, listening to the radio as they cruised what they called “The Circuit” in the late 1960s.

They sat up front in that Mercury Cougar, vaguely a muscle car. With all the windows down on an early August night, the air rushed in and the sounds of the Top 40 blasted from the AM radio.

The kids sat in the back, savoring every moment of that late-summer adventure. It seemed oh, so sophisticated.

Those memories have come rushing back, for reasons all too bittersweet.

SAMSUNG

Seeing this 1970 Cougar at our local car show on Sunday reminded me of the Cougar those girls drove. One of those girls — my cousin — may not be with us for much longer. Cancer.

My cousin’s given name is Maureen, but we have called her “Pete” forever.

Pete 1966

She was 17 and her sister Debbie was 19 when we made the rounds of Janesville, Wisconsin, in the summer of 1969. I sat in the back along with my brother John. We were 12 and 10. (The photo above is me and Pete and John from 1966, three years before we cruised The Circuit.)

Janesville, then the home of a huge GM assembly plant, had a strong car culture. On weekends, the kids cruised The Circuit, a long, rectangular loop of one-way streets that went over the Rock River and back again.

WLS, the Big 89 out of Chicago, provided the soundtrack to those thrilling rides. We could have been riding The Circuit on the week of Aug. 4, 1969. The top five songs in the WLS chart that week have been seared into my head all these years.

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1. “Honky Tonk Women,” the Rolling Stones. This is the live version from “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!” from 1970.

2. “In The Year 2525,” Zager and Evans.

3. “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” Jackie DeShannon.

4. “Birthday,” Underground Sunshine.

5. “Polk Salad Annie,” Tony Joe White.

Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Imagine hearing those every three hours.

Some of the other songs in the WLS Top 40 that memorable week, also long blown deep into my head by the wind off The Circuit:

8. “Sweet Caroline,” Neil Diamond.
9. “A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash.
11. “Soul Deep,” the Box Tops.
14. “Laughing,” the Guess Who.
16. “Marrakesh Express,” Crosby, Stills and Nash.
17. “Give Peace A Chance,” Plastic Ono Band.
20. “Green River,” Creedence Clearwater Revival.
24. “Spinning Wheel,” Blood, Sweat and Tears.
25. “Good Morning Starshine,” Oliver.
30. “Get Together,” the Youngbloods.
31. “Nitty Gritty,” Gladys Knight and the Pips.
33. “I’d Wait A Million Years,” the Grass Roots.
36. “Pledge Of Love,” the Joe Jeffrey Group.
40. “Sugar,  Sugar,” the Archies.

What a ride that was, Pete.

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5 Comments

Filed under June 2013, Sounds

5 responses to “Soundtrack to the ride of a lifetime

  1. I’m so sorry to hear your cousin’s dealing with that.

    Thanks for sharing your memories, though. Love those cars and the accompanying music, especially the hits from this particular week of this particular year; I was born during that week. :) Honky Tonk Woman was supposedly the number one song when I was born.

  2. KC

    Great memories. I love looking at the chart trying to recall the songs, and where I was at the time. Hard to believe Quentin’s Theme was in the top 10! Dark Shadows was not as popular in Houston at the time, I guess.

  3. Meat

    Sorry about your cousin. My mom worked downtown at Mutual Savings from 1968-73, when we moved to Wausau. We used to pick her up on Friday nights when she worked until 8 p.m. and the circuit would be humming. Thanks, too, for the playlist. I had an AM radio next to my bed and it was tuned to WLS. Always.

  4. Scott Thomson

    Jeff:
    When you led with “the Circuit,” I knew it had to be — there could be only one.
    To paraphrase Jackson Browne, in ’69 I was 20 — I know, it doesn’t scan as well as 21 — and my Cruising The Circuit Days were pretty much over. I”d transferred to the Big UW and moved to Madison, on a collision course with the Counter-Culture.
    But in the six years or so before that, I spent a lot of time on The Circuit — stoplight racing, chatting up the chicks, going out to Onion Bargee (early Burger King), etc. — some of that with my older brother before I got my Ticket to Freedom from the DMV, Of course, we listened to WLS, the AM car radio’s single cheap speaker having a coronary — Being True to Our School, Wanting to Hold Your Hand, etc.
    There were a lot of pleasant memories, and some hair-raising experiences, too: Would Skip’s 4,000-pound, 360 HP, fins-go-on-forever 300D be able to stop before the next stoplight? Will those big dudes in the Pontiac be able to catch my Corvair?
    Your post sounded like a ticket for a time machine, and if it worked, I’d go back there in a minute.
    Sad news is, you can’t go there and do what we did. The Powers That Be in Janesville decided years ago that cruising The Circuit was anti-social, or something like that. If the gendarmes see you go by more than twice, I think it is, they ticket you. Anybody who cruises, I’m told, goes out and does it on Milton Ave, past the Mall.
    Just not the same,

  5. Shark

    Sorry to hear about your cousin, Jeff. Life just ain’t fair, is it? There are no words I can say that will make things better for her, but I’m sure she has family and friends who can provide the strength for her to stay positive. I was 10 years old in 1969 and my radio world consisted of Zager & Evans, Three Dog Night,CCR, Neil Diamond, and many more. Thanks for takiing me along on your trip to 1969. Top 40 radio was sooooo great back then!

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