On Memorial Day weekend in 1965, the folks in the music department at the Stiller Co. in downtown Green Bay, Wisconsin, launched a Top 10 singles chart just as summer started.
They put it in an ad, which was published in the Green Bay Press-Gazette on Friday, May 28, 1965. The Stiller’s Top Ten singles chart appeared in the Green Bay paper every Friday evening for the next 245 weeks, give or take a week or two when it was left out for some reason.
The last Stiller’s Top Ten chart appeared 50 years ago this week, on Friday, Feb. 6, 1970. It’s on the right, opposite the first chart.
The Stiller charts are a fascinating look into pop music tastes in a conservative Midwest town during the latter half of the ’60s.
Though the early charts say the Top Ten was based on record sales, the first Stiller Top 10 chart is exactly the same as the Top 10 chart from WDUZ radio in Green Bay for that week. That practice continued well into 1966. After that, and until the end of the run, the Stiller charts and the local radio charts are similar but not mirror images of each other.
The “By Actual Sales” notation eventually disappeared from the ads in the paper. In fact, actual sales may rarely have been a factor. I’ve been told that young women who worked at the store were influential in shaping each week’s Top Ten, picking their favorite records. For that reason alone, the Stiller charts may not be representative of what Green Bay listeners really liked.
The Stiller charts were flawed in another, more culturally significant way. Though the Supremes and the Dixie Cups show up in the first chart and Eddie Holman in the last chart, black artists were underrepresented.
That said, black artists also were underrepresented on the playlists at WDUZ radio and WBAY radio, Green Bay’s Top 40 stations. The Stiller store was tight with both stations throughout the Top Ten’s four-year-plus run, sponsoring radio shows that almost certainly hyped records the store wanted to sell.
The great value of the Stiller charts is when local and regional groups turn up with singles in the Top Ten.
The first chart has one such entry at No. 4 — “Baby Doll” by the Dupries. They were a local group featuring three Duprey sisters — Annie, Joanie and Carol — along with three guys. The band’s name was a play on their last name.
In early May 1967, “Rapid Transit” by the Robbs, a Milwaukee group, was No. 1 on the Stiller chart for two weeks.
In November 1967, just before Thanksgiving, “Stop and Listen” by the Shag, another Milwaukee group, was No. 1 on the Stiller chart for a week.
The arc of the Stiller charts sort of parallels the Beatles’ career arc. The chart debuts as the summer of 1965 begins, with Beatlemania going strong in America for at least a year. From 1965 to 1969, at least 10 Beatles singles reach No. 1 on the Stiller charts. In the last chart, the store hypes a new Beatles LP as “coming soon.” That record is “Let It Be,” the Beatles’ last LP.
As the ’60s give way to the ’70s, the Stiller’s Top Ten chart seems to be staggering to the end. Is it still relevant? The editing gets sloppy. Does anyone care?
Led Zeppelin is listed as “Leo Zepplin” and remains that way for three weeks before being corrected to “Led Zepplin.” Not getting a whole lotta love there. “Creedance Clearwater Revival” has a new LP, “Willy Poor Boy.” “Laura Nyrol” and “Rod McKuern” have new LPs, too.
In the final chart, there are four typos in artists’ names — “Vanity Fair” instead of Vanity Fare, “By Jefferson” instead of Jefferson, “Lenney Welch” instead of Lenny Welch and “The Bad Finger” instead of Badfinger — and an extra S tacked on to “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
The last Stiller’s Top Ten chart seems to be sending a farewell message. It’s right there, at No. 6 and No. 7.
Jim: How cool that you found the Larry Williams & Johnny Watson LP. Glory be. You got the soul, brother.
Me: Yeah, I finally found that record. What do I do now? Don’t think I’ll quit digging, though. Still a handful of records left on my wish list.
Jim: I would like to see what’s left on your “wish list.” Must be some rather hard-to-find albums.
So I thought for a while and sent Jim this list toward the end of the evening:
“Noah” by the Bob Seger System
“Brand New Morning” by Bob Seger
“Music from National Football League Films,” Vols. 2, 3 and 4
“Merry Soul Christmas — George Conedy at the Hammond Organ”
“Shaft” by Bernard Purdie
“David (Unreleased LP and More)” by David Ruffin
“Lady Lea” or “Excuse Me, I Want to Talk To You” by Lea Roberts
Late ’60s/early ’70s Little Richard: “The Explosive Little Richard,” “Every Hour With Little Richard,” “King of Rock and Roll,” “The Second Coming,” “Right Now!” (Though I have seen a couple of these but passed for budget or quality reasons.)
Late ’60s/early ’70s Mongo Santamaria: “Soul Bag,” “Workin’ on a Groovy Thing,” “Stone Soul,” “Feelin’ Alright,” “Mongo ’70”
Anything by black college marching bands with rock/soul/R&B covers
It didn’t take long before I realized the list was incomplete. Also looking for stuff by the Easybeats … another record by the Foundations … another Lionel Hampton record on Brunswick … and, well, you get the idea. It’s a fairly fluid list. That opens up possibilities for finding records I’m not looking for while digging. Which explains why the last three records I bought were:
“Baby Dynamite” by Carolyn Franklin from 1969.
“Heart & Soul” by Johnny Adams from 1969.
“Candy” soundtrack featuring the Byrds, Steppenwolf and Dave Grusin from 1968.
But back to the list I sent to Jim. Why, for example, am I looking for records from black college marching bands? Because “Tiger Time” by the Grambling University Marching Band is one of the coolest records I ever found, and I wasn’t looking for it. Now I’m looking for more, if they exist at all. Here’s why. Dig this!
Now that Christmas has come and gone, I can come clean.
Six days before Christmas, my son and I took a quick overnight trip to Minneapolis. For Evan, it was an opportunity to do some research at one of the University of Minnesota libraries.
For me, of course, it was a chance to go record digging. For the record, so to speak, I went record digging while fully mindful that it was a time to be looking for a few last things for other people, not for myself.
After dropping off Evan at the library, I made a bee line for Mill City Sound in suburban Hopkins. My friend Todd tipped me to it a couple of years ago. It’s one of the best record stores around. Highly recommended.
When I walked in, there was a guy looking at the new arrival bins. He was taking his time, which is fine, so I headed for the soul and R&B bins. Along the way, I glanced at the collectible records on the wall. Always interesting to see what they have up there.
So I dove in, flipping through the letter A soul and R&B records. Nothing for me. I took a couple of steps to my right, and started flipping through the letter B soul and R&B records. About a dozen records in, I glanced up at the wall in front of me. What I saw took my breath away.
There, among the collectible records on the wall, right smack in front of me, was the LP that has been No. 1 on my wish list for the last 10 years. I immediately took it off the wall. Never mind that it cost about four times what I’d planned to spend on records on this trip.
“Two For The Price Of One” is a soul scorcher by Larry Williams and Johnny Watson, released on Okeh in 1967. The title cut is proof.
I found no other records that day at Mill City Sound, nor at either of the other Minneapolis record stores we visited. Finding that one kinda negated the need to look for anything else.
Now, with Christmas come and gone, I can fess up.
That record has been sitting in a Mill City Sound bag for the last nine days. I didn’t say anything about it to Evan during our trip, nor to Janet when we got home, nor have I put it on the turntable. Until tonight, that is.
Christmas has come and gone for another year, but some gifts you never forget.
50 years ago, for Christmas 1969, Santa brought a radio. Yep, that Panasonic RF-930 AM-FM radio. It changed and shaped my life.
I took it upstairs to my bedroom and set it on top of my filing cabinet. I tuned in WOKY, the Mighty 92 out of Milwaukee, one of the great Top 40 AM stations of the era, and started digging all kinds of pop, soul, R&B and rock. I can’t think of many more exciting times to listen live to the Top 40 than 1970 and 1971.
— One night, without asking my parents’ permission, I quietly made a long-distance call to WOKY because I could win a record if I was the right caller and knew the answer to a certain question. I knew that Creedence Clearwater Revival started out as the Blue Velvets and the Golliwogs. I won the record. A couple of weeks later, my record arrived. It was an obscure record sent to DJs. I had never heard of Bob Summers. Certainly not on WOKY. Yeah, just slightly disappointed. I no longer have the record I won, but I did buy another copy years later.
— WOKY ran a contest to get petitions to try to persuade the Beatles to not break up. One of my junior high classmates gathered signatures for one such petition. If memory serves, she won some kind of prize for her efforts.
— WOKY’s morning DJ, whom I could listen to only during the summer and during school vacations, was Bob Barry. It was quite a kick to hear some of his stories and meet him at a book signing last year.
My other regular stop was WTMJ, Radio 620. “Packers, Badgers, Brewers, Bucks! Hear ’em all on WTMJ, Milwaukee.” At night, when the clear channels were crystal clear, I’d surf the AM dial for distant baseball and basketball games.
Not long after Christmas 1971, we moved, and I switched over to FM — yep, it was AM, then FM.
WIFC, the Big 95 out of Wausau, Wisconsin, was a tremendous small-market station during the ’70s, Top 40 during the day and free form after 9 or 10 p.m. Those free-form hours, jam-packed with deep album cuts, introduced me to so much great rock and, yes, even some pretty cool jazz.
When I was a high school senior in 1975, I spent a cold February morning with WIFC’s morning DJ. I sat in on his show to write a feature for the school paper. Ten years ago, I reconnected with Bruce Charles and interviewed him again. That three-part story is here, here and here.
From 1970 to 1977, that radio was my constant companion while at home.
Then I got my first stereo system, and its receiver pretty much took the radio’s place. (For the record, that stereo consisted of a BIC 940 belt-drive turntable, an Akai AA-1010 receiver and Atlantis speakers.)
In the late ’70s, I took that radio with me when I went to shoot baskets. I’d set it at the base of the hoop while I played. It took a few shots from balls that came straight down off the rim. One such wayward shot bent the antenna. It eventually broke, so there’s long been just a stub of an antenna. I’ll forever associate the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” LP with that radio. In the summer of 1978, it sat at the base of the hoop at the park and the Stones poured out of it.
50 years on, I still have that radio, and I still listen to it.
On fine summer days, I set it out on the patio, sit in the sun and listen to the Brewers. During football season since at least the ’90s, I set it next to me in the rec room during Packers games, turn off the TV sound and tune in the Packers Radio Network.
If there’s one song that demonstrates how that radio changed my life, it’s the Jackson 5’s take on “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.” It blew my 13-year-old mind when I heard it for the first time on WOKY at Christmas time in 1970. I had no idea there were pop, rock, R&B and soul versions of Christmas songs, all played only at a certain time of year. What a magical thing.
In 1965, Charles Schulz started drawing Snoopy as a World War I flying ace battling the Red Baron. But “it reached a point where war just didn’t seem funny,” he told biographer Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Even so, Snoopy and the Red Baron inspired this novelty Christmas song with explosions, with gunfire and with a solid message of hope that came as the Vietnam War escalated.
The second wish
Someday all our dreams will come to be Someday in a world where men are free Maybe not in time for you and me But someday at Christmastime
(This is the sleeve for that 45. You could have bought it for 25 cents if you also bought a carton of Kent, True, Newport or Old Gold cigarettes.)
There’s no music. Just “Louis Satchmo Armstrong talkin’ to all the kids … from all over the world … at Christmas time,” reading Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem in a warm, gravelly voice.
“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. A very good night.’
“And that goes for Satchmo, too. (Laughs softly.) Thank you.”
It was the last thing he ever recorded. Satchmo, who was 69 at the time, died a little over four months later, in July 1971.
And now, we’re fulfilling another Christmas wish.
Twelve years ago, when this blog was not even a year old, our new friend Rob in Pennsylvania declared Irma Thomas’ rendition of “O Holy Night” to be “goosebump-inducing stuff.” It still is, and Rob has long since become an old friend, so we cue up this one for Rob every Christmas Eve.
50 years ago, in 1969, the members of a garage band from Montello, a small town in south-central Wisconsin, went on the ride of their lives.
Early that year, Underground Sunshine was playing teen dances, roadhouses and clubs across the southern half of Wisconsin. Jack’s, along U.S. Highway 12 in Baraboo, was one such place. The Airway Bar in Marshfield was another. The Oconomowoc Teenage Republican Club dance at the Oconomowoc High School gym was another such gig.
But by summer, Underground Sunshine’s cover of the Beatles’ “Birthday” was all over the radio. The rocket was lit.
Wednesday, May 28, 1969
Underground Sunshine signs a recording contract with Mercury Records, which plans to release “Birthday” on its Intrepid label.
Tuesday, June 3, 1969
“Birthday” is released on Intrepid. (The 7-inch, Intrepid 75002, is out of print, as are all of Underground Sunshine’s recordings.)
Here’s the flip side. “All I Want Is You” is an original by band members Berty Koelbl, Frank Koelbl and Rex Rhode, all classmates at Montello High School. It’s clearly influenced by the Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me.” There’s also a pleasant enough pop-psych jam in the middle.
Single version, stripped down
LP version with a more polished sound
Thursday, June 26, 1969
Underground Sunshine plays the first park teen dance of the summer at the Vilas Park Shelter in Madison.
Sunday, June 29, 1969
Underground Sunshine plays a midday show — 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — at the Gimbels store at the Hilldale Shopping Center in Madison. (The top photo is from an ad for that gig.)
The first week of July 1969
Underground Sunshine plays a week-long stand at the Club Sahara, a nightclub on the east side of Green Bay. Warren Gerds, the young entertainment writer for the local paper, the Press-Gazette, profiles the band for the lead item in his column. He also writes a feature story on its light man.
What follows are Gerds’ column lead and excerpts from his feature story on the light man, published two days apart.
Thursday, July 3, 1969
What has happened to the Underground Sunshine is what all young rock and roll groups dream about: Quick success.
Two years ago, the Montello, Wisconsin, band didn’t exist. Come August, it will be pulling in $1,000 a night.
How come? “We’ve got a fabulous manager,” leader Berty Koelbl said during a break at Club Sahara. Berty said [Jon Little of WISM radio (Madison)] considerably changed the fortunes of his group.
“He gave us places to play. He knows a lot of club owners.”
It was also Little who suggested the rock quartet record “Birthday,” a Beatles song. The Underground Sunshine version hasn’t made the Green Bay charts yet, but it’s No. 30 in Milwaukee.
Berty said “Birthday” is helping bolster his band’s pocketbook. “Before ‘Birthday,’ we were getting $150 a night. Soon we’ll be up to $1,000,” he said. The band is getting $800 a week at the Club Sahara because it signed for that figure three months ago, Berty said.
Underground Sunshine’s “Birthday” is also bolstering the Beatles’ till at the rate of two cents a record. That’s the price for rights to the song.
Berty said his group’s version is different from the Beatles’. “First, there’s the organ lead, which the Beatles didn’t use. We also brought the singing up louder.”
Berty said he has qualms about “Birthday.” “People have been hearing another version of the Beatles,” he said. “It’s always better to record your own material.”
That’s what Berty intends to do at the next record cutting session, which will be held in a few weeks. Berty’s composition “Take Me, Break Me,” will be cut then. He also wrote “All I Want Is You,” which is on the flip side of the current record.
It is Berty’s aim to add more original songs so the group can create its own image.
“Right now, we don’t play much original stuff — only two songs. But within a month, we’ll be doing two-hour routines, and probably 90 percent of it will be our own material … except for “Birthday” because that’s what gave us the start.”
Aside from Berty on bass guitar and vocals, the band consists of Berty’s brother, Frank, drums; a relation of manager Jon Little, Janie Little, organ; Rex Rhode, lead guitar; and Bruce Brown, lights.
The idea for the light man came from watching Milwaukee and Chicago groups, Berty said. “I got tired of pushing my foot down on the floor for lights,” he said.
Saturday, July 5, 1969
Bruce Brown, 18, operates the unique switchboard for the lighting system.
As sort of visual accompanist, Bruce manipulates light switches to the tempos of rock music. The result of his effort is like watching a miniature, rhythmic, multicolored lightning storm.
Other rock groups have lighting systems, but none quite so complex that they need a special man to run them.
Brown is in charge of $600 worth of electrical equipment. The custom-made switchboard controls the strobe (quick-flashing) and black lights and 16 multicolored lights in four banks.
Two of the four-light banks flank the band, and the other two face it. Brown sits off to one side, behind an amplifier.
“I work with the feeling of the song most of the time,” Brown said. “Sometimes I work with the rhythm of the song, and sometimes I don’t. It depends on the song.”
Brown said he got his job by hanging around the Underground Sunshine players while they were practicing. “They just wanted more lights on them, and I was always around them.”
“They used to practice in the lead guitarist’s basement, and I used to work their lighting system, just to get them in the mood,” Brown said. “It was something to do, rather than be on the street.”
The switchboard was built with the aid of Brown’s father, who is an electrician.
“We all got together and worked out what we wanted. It took an afternoon to do that and two other days to make the switchboard.”
He has been doing his light work for a year.
Saturday, Aug. 2, 1969
Underground Sunshine appears with Dick Clark on ABC’s “American Bandstand,” having flown to Hollywood to tape an appearance earlier in the week. They play “All I Want Is You” and then “Birthday,” of course.
[If the video doesn’t queue up properly, start it at 26:10.]
Underground Sunshine’s main lineup appears on the show. The Koelbl brothers — stage names Berty Kohl and Frank Kohl — are on bass and drums, respectively. Berty is just about to turn 20. Frank is 21. Chris Connors, whose real name was John Dahlberg, plays lead guitar. He’s 22. He’d just joined the band, having auditioned after answering an ad in the Milwaukee Journal. They needed a lead guitarist because Rhode had quit in a dispute over equipment. Jane Little, whose real name was Jane Whirry, plays keyboards. She’s 18 and just out of high school.
“The group was outfitted by The Hub in Madison before their trip to the ABC color studios,” the Capital Times newspaper of Madison reported. The Hub was a clothing store.
That night, Underground Sunshine plays a gig at the Armory in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. After that, the band heads to Chicago for recording sessions.
Saturday, Aug. 9, 1969
In July, the Green Bay writer reports: “Because of the success of the record, the band has signed a contract to play with the nationally-known Vanilla Fudge in an August concert at Pittsburgh.”
The Shower of Stars show, part of the KGV Summer Music Festival, takes place at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh.
Underground Sunshine gets third billing behind Vanilla Fudge and Illusion but is listed ahead of Andy Kim, Joe Jeffrey and “other acts.”
Wednesday, Aug. 13, 1969
Underground Sunshine plays the “Dance of the Summer” at Memorial Hall in Racine.
Saturday, Sept. 6, 1969
Underground Sunshine’s cover of “Birthday” peaks at No. 26 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It’s a big hit in the late summer of 1969. It reaches No. 2 on the Hit Parade at WLS radio in Chicago in mid-August, but can’t displace the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman.”
Thursday, Sept. 18, 1969
Underground Sunshine’s follow-up single, a cover of Bread’s “Don’t Shut Me Out,” backed with “Take Me, Break Me,” an original, is out this week. It peaks at No. 102.
Here’s that single.
Here’s the LP version of the flip side, 11-plus minutes of jamming, rambling and noodling.
After the single’s release, the group sets out on a tour of the South, then plans to take a little time off.
Underground Sunshine releases its only album, “Let There Be Light,” on Intrepid. Only two of its eight songs are originals. On the rest, they cover the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival twice, along with Bread and the Spencer Davis Group. It was recorded at Ter-Mar Recording Studios — more commonly known as Chess Studios — at 2121 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago.
Friday-Saturday, Dec. 5-6, 1969
Underground Sunshine is back at Jack’s on Highway 12 in Baraboo.
Tuesday, Dec. 30, 1969
Underground Sunshine plays at a teen dance at the Cow Palace at the Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds Park in Fond du Lac.
The rest of the story
“Birthday” was the only hit for Underground Sunshine, which in late 1969 and sometime in 1970 released two other singles that went nowhere in the charts.
Their third single was an original, “9 to 5 (Ain’t My Bag),” written by Dave Wayne (real name Dave Waehner), who’d replaced Jane Little on keyboards.
The last of their singles was a cover of “Jesus Is Just Alright,” which was covered by the Byrds in 1969 and by the Doobie Brothers in 1972.
Underground Sunshine broke up in 1970. The rocket had flamed out.
Why? When Wisconsin music historian Gary E. Myers interviewed the band members 26 years ago, in 1993, there was no consensus. Money problems, with some making too much and others not enough. Too much weed being smoked. Boy-girl problems, including too many groupies.
Some 20 years after the breakup, the Koelbl brothers and Rhode revived Underground Sunshine for a short time.
“(Underground Sunshine) gave us a lot of opportunities and I had a lot of great experiences. Got to see a lot of the country. Got to see a lot of different things,” Frank Koelbl told Myers in 1993.
“It’s been a very, very good learning experience. Even the way it was done, I would not trade anything for it,” Bert Koelbl told Myers in 1993.