July 4th, 1970–The Week at a Glance
In May of 1970, President Richard Nixon ordered U.S. forces to widen their Southeast Asian presence into neutral Cambodia. Protests rippled across the nation.
On May 4th, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on a student protesters at Kent State, killing four and wounding nine.
On May 9th, more than 100,000 protestors converged on Washington D.C. to denounce the War in Vietnam. One day later, police officers fired into a crowd of peaceful protesters at Jackson State University, killing 2 and wounding 12 more.
With the summer of 1970 looming on the horizon, this was a period of radical, often violent change.
Americans demanded an end to the war. Black Americans demanded equality. Women demanded liberation. Queer Americans demanded recognition. Protest rippled across college campuses and city streets.
Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 Debuts
It was against this backdrop that Casey Kasem debuted his weekly radio program–American Top 40 Countdown. As the nation splintered, “O-o-h Child” by The Five Stairsteps lilted delicately, hopefully, triumphantly across the hot, turbulent summer of a new decade.
“O-o-h Child” reached #12 on Casey Kasem’s very first countdown. It’s also our featured song today.
Casey Kasem’s Top 40 for the Week of July 4th, 1970
Highlights from This Week’s Top 40 Countdown
At the top of Kasem’s inaugural chart is Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” The spot-on Randy Newman cover captured the excess of the era with perfectly intoxicated sarcasm.
The countdown is also thick with 70s soft rock. “Tighter and Tighter” by Alike and Kicking, Bread’s “Make It With You” and “Ride Captain Ride” by the Blues Image all point to the imminent launch of yacht rock.
But the fuzzed-out psychedelic soul of the era is equally represented, with Flaming Ember’s “Westbound #9, Wilson Pickett’s Archies cover “Sugar, Sugar” and The Temptations epic “Ball of Confusion” making appearances.
Fun Facts About This Top 40 Countdown
Also noteworthy, Elvis and the Beatles appear back to back on this list at 9 and 8, with “The Wonder of You” and “The Long and Winding Road,” respectively. Though it would be the inaugural broadcast of Casey Kasem’s Top 40, it would be the final time that the two mighty hitmakers would appear in the Top 40 together. McCartney had announced just two months prior that the Beatles were officially splitting.
Less Fun Facts About This Top 40 Countdown
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young appear twice in this debut countdown, at #24 with the utopian hippie hit, “Teach Your Children” and, at #30, with “Ohio.” The latter was a famously searing indictment of Nixon in the wake of the Kent State shootings. Neil Young explicitly charges the president by name for the deaths of four young Americans.
Kasem also loved to sneak a few archival hits into his weekly countdown. This week’s “Oldies” included “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, “Hello Dolly” by Louis Armstrong, “Spinning Wheel” by Blood Sweat & Tears, and “Little Ole Man” by Bill Cosby. The less said about that last one, the better.
The Top 40 for July 4, 1970 in Order
- END OF OUR ROAD – MARVIN GAYE
- SILVER BIRD – MARK LINDSEY
- SPILL THE WINE – ERIC BURDON
- GO BACK – CRABBY APPLETON
- I JUST CAN’T HELP BELIEVING – B.J. THOMAS
- SPIRIT IN THE DARK – ARETHA FRANKLIN
- MISSISSIPPI – JOHN PHILLIPS
- WESTBOUND #9 – FLAMING EMBER
- IT’S ALL IN THE GAME – FOUR TOPS
- SAVE THE COUNTRY – FIFTH DIMENSION
- OHIO – CROSBY, STILLS, NASH AND YOUNG
- EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL – RAY STEVENS
- CHECK OUT YOUR MIND – IMPRESSIONS
- QUESTION – MOODY BLUES
- SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED – STEVIE WONDER
- SUGAR, SUGAR – WILSON PICKETT
- TEACH YOUR CHILDREN – CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG
- WHICH WAY YOU GOIN’ BILLY – THE POPPY FAMILY
- LOVE ON A TWO-WAY STREET – MOMENTS
- MISSISSIPPI QUEEN – MOUNTAIN
- MAKE IT WITH YOU – BREAD
- ARE YOU READY – PACIFIC GAS & ELECTRIC
- LOVE LAND – CHARLES WRIGHT & THE WATTS 103RD STREET RHYTHM BAND
- TIGHTER & TIGHTER – ALIVE AND KICKING
- MY BABY LOVES LOVIN’ – WHITE PLAINS
- A SONG OF JOY – MIGUEL RIOS
- UNITED WE STAND – BROTHERHOOD OF MAN
- GET READY – RARE EARTH
- OOH CHILD – FIVE STAIRSTEPS
- GIMME DAT DING – THE PIPKINS
- HITCHIN’ A RIDE – VANITY FAIR
- THE WONDER OF YOU – ELVIS PRESLEY
- THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD – BEATLES
- CLOSE TO YOU – CARPENTERS
- LAY DOWN (CANDLES IN THE WIND) – MELANIE
- BAND OF GOLD – FREDA PAYNE
- RIDE CAPTAIN RIDE – BLUES IMAGE
- BALL OF CONFUSION – TEMPTATIONS
- THE LOVE YOU SAVE – JACKSON FIVE
- MAMA TOLD ME NOT TO COME – THREE DOG NIGHT
Feature Song—“O-o-h Child” by the Five Stairsteps
Each week, we feature the story behind one song on Casey Kasem’s countdown.
Our first feature comes from the South Side of Chicago.
It was there that the young Burke siblings first began harmonizing as children. In some ways, the singing soul group was an immediate precursor to the Jackson 5. Chicago police officer Clarence Burke Sr. managed five of his six children, but most of the harmonizing and choreographed dancing came from the mind of young Clarence Burke, Jr.
The First-First Family of Soul
Burke Sr. retired from the police force to manage his children. They traveled far and wide (even lodging, on their way through Memphis, in the same Lorraine Hotel room that Martin Luther King would spend his last moments). The young singers toured and performed extensively in the mid-1960s. They crossed paths with that other soon-to-be-famous family singing group during their travels. They even bested the Jackson 5 to win a 1965 talent show at Chicago’s Regal Theater.
Making an Impression
But their most notable chance encounter came in 1966, according to an excellent piece by Dave Hoekstra over at New City. The ambitious family lived just five doors down from a house shared by Jerry Butler and Fred Cash of the massively influential soul combo, The Impressions.
Burke Sr. was persistent in urging his neighbors to come by and hear his kids sing. When Cash finally did, he heard about twelve bars before picking up the phone and calling his bandmate, Curtis Mayfield. The budding soul legend immediately signed the Five Stairsteps to his short-lived Windy C imprint, where they recorded their self-titled debut album in 1966.
The Philly Connection
At the time, Windy C was distributed through the Philadelphia label Cameo-Parkway (most notable for artists like Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, and Dee Dee Sharpe). The young Stairsteps hit #16 on Billboard’s R&B charts with the elegant “You Waited Too Long.”
They recorded a 1967 appearance on Soul Train. (Incidentally, legendary host Don Cornelius was also a retired Chicago police officer). Then, at the end of 1967, Cameo-Parkway folded. Top executive Neil Bogart left Cameo to form Buddah Records, soon to be a top purveyor of bubblegum and psych-lite fare. Bogart took the Burke family with him and in 1969, they recorded their third record—Stairsteps—for his new label.
Big Break at Buddah
Seizing on the burgeoning psychedelic soul around them, they recorded their intended first single, a trippy psych-soul take on the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.” It was a total flop. Then, a Philadelphia DJ decided to flip the record and play the B-Side, an aching soul tune written by Stan Vincent—who saw prior success scribing for Connie Francis and Lou Christie.
“O-o-h Child” would become a smash hit, peaking at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, and on Kasem’s countdown. By their own confession, the band members were too young to really appreciate the implications of the Civil Rights movement raging on around them.
And yet, they waxed one of the era’s most enduring anthems, a soaring promise that brighter days were ahead.