The name of this blog — AM, Then FM — reflects how I came to know much of the music I’ve enjoyed all these years. So, yes, I am older than dirt, old enough to have started listening to Top 40 radio on AM stations.
So let us step into the Wayback Machine …
… and I find myself at 12, a boy about Sherman’s age, scrunched into the back seat of a car with my 10-year-old brother. We are out with two older cousins — girls — cruising the circuit in Janesville, Wisconsin, in the summer of 1969. The windows are down and WLS radio out of Chicago is blasting from the speakers.
My brother and I spent a week with our aunt and uncle in Janesville every summer in the late ’60s. We loved going. Always some kind of adventure, at least to a 12-year-old. Uncle Jerry and Aunt Nona had color TV and watched things we never watched at home. “The Fugitive,” for one. Uncle Jerry took us bowfishing — shooting carp with bow and arrow in the sloughs of the Rock River. We always found baseball cards curiously not distributed back home in Sheboygan. My brother ratted me out one summer when I wore the same socks all week in Janesville. I broke his collar bone playing football on Nona and Jerry’s lawn one summer.
All that, and Deb and Pete (what we have always called my cousin Maureen) took us cruising. Why they agreed to take a couple of kids cruising is beyond me, but it is one of my great childhood memories.
A brief history of the circuit in downtown Janesville: On July 16, 1956, the city made several two-way streets — most notably the long southwest-to-northeast drags of Milwaukee and Court streets across the Rock River — one-way to cut down on traffic congestion. It was the beginning of cruising on the circuit.
It’s become so much of a tradition that the local historical society had an exhibit on it back in 2oo3.
One other thing you need to know about Janesville: It’s long had a GM plant, thus a strong car culture.
So we cruised the circuit in that summer of 1969. Two girls, two kids. If memory serves, we did so in a Mercury Cougar.
That summer of 1969 was the first time I really started digging what was on the radio. The song I most vividly recall — “In The Year 2525,” by Zager and Evans. Hey, I was 12, on the verge of 7th grade. As our son will be this summer.
Listed below are just some of the songs on the WLS Hit Parade for the week of Aug. 25, 1969. I don’t recall whether that was the week we spent in Janesville that year, but all the right songs are in the Top 40:
- 1. “Honky Tonk Women,” the Rolling Stones
- 5. “Green River,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
- 7. “A Boy Named Sue,” Johnny Cash
- 8. “Sugar Sugar,” the Archies
- 10. “Birthday,” Underground Sunshine
- 12. “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” Jackie DeShannon
- 13. “Get Together,” the Youngbloods
- 15. “Poke Salad Annie,” Tony Joe White
- 16. “I’d Wait A Million Years,” the Grass Roots
- 19. “Sweet Caroline,” Neil Diamond
- 21. “Laughing,” the Guess Who
- 24. “Give Peace A Chance,” Plastic Ono Band
- 26. “In The Year 2525,” Zager and Evans
- 33. “I Can’t Get Next To You,” the Temptations
- 38. “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” Tommy James and the Shondells
- 39. “Don’t It Make You Want To Go Home,” Joe South
Imagine that. Johnny Cash, Tony Joe White and Joe South all in the same Top 40 in the same week.
So was Tom Jones, but that’s another story, for another time.