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The Best Song Ever

Posted on 2013.07.18 at 12:17
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: You'll know soon enough
CarlDouglas2I was a teenager living in Detroit in 1974. At that moment in time, most of my siblings were teenagers as well. Like many people in that age range, music was a big part of our lives. The big pop music radio station in Detroit was unquestionably CKLW, at 800 kHz on the AM dial. As the call letters imply, CKLW was a Canadian station. It was based in Windsor, Ontario, just across the river from Detroit, but it enjoyed a long run in the 60s and 70s as an influential pop behemoth.

At some point in 1974, CKLW began an extensive promotion. They asked listeners to send in post cards (how very quaint!) listing their favorite songs of all time. It was either 3 songs or 5 they wanted; I forget which. For that matter, I don’t recall whether I sent in a post card. After some weeks of collecting data, Radio 8 (as they called themselves) began playing the results of our voting, presented as The Top 300 Songs of All Time.

Those 300 songs were played over the course of a weekend, played in reverse order, climaxing with the great reveal of Number One. A few siblings and I really got into it, with someone manning the radio at almost all times, writing down each song as it came.

Momentum built slowly. The songs at the bottom of the list were a mixed bag, many of them relatively obscure records older than any of us. While I don’t recall any specific titles, I imagine the list’s lower tiers included such ditties as “Elusive Butterfly” by Bob Lind or “Personality” by Lloyd Price – or songs that us kids didn’t know at all, which would have given us an excuse to grab a snack or go to the bathroom.

As we got into the top 100, excitement began to build. We were now in territory where we knew every song. The stylistic breadth of the collection was striking, ranging from Motown to bubblegum to adult contemporary to rock n’ roll to novelty songs, and everything in between.

When we reached the top 10, the heavy hitters came up to bat. I think “Hey Jude” by the Beatles was in there, for example. A lengthy commercial break preceded the playing of Number One. It gave us time to wrack our brains and try to figure out what mammoth classic hadn’t been played yet. I must confess we were stumped.

The commercial break ended. The DJ’s excited, resonant voice boomed out, “And now, the number one song of all time!”… and we heard a man’s voice singing “O ho-ho-ho… O ho-ho-ho…” Yes, the number one song of all time was “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas. Yes it was. My siblings and I let out a moan of anguish. Nowadays, I might call shenanigans, but I’d never heard that expression in 1974. You see, “Kung Fu Fighting” was indeed a big hit. It had climbed to #1 on the charts only weeks earlier. And we knew, beyond all doubt, that this was the ONLY reason it was now the number one song of all time.

We knew it was a goofy near-novelty song. It did not belong among the pantheon of immortal songs we’d been listening to all weekend. Despite our tender young ages, I think we all knew that this contest had just been unmasked as a sham. I think we grew up a little bit at that moment; lost a bit of innocence. We had just been told, in big capital letters, that PEOPLE WERE STUPID, that their better sense could be swayed en masse by whatever song happened to be atop the charts at that moment.

History seems to have borne us out in the succeeding four decades. “Kung Fu Fighting”, if it is played at all nowadays, is heard as a goofy piece of nearly forgotten disco fluff. Not that it’s a bad song; heck, you can dance to it and do faux kung fu moves for all 3:15 of its running time. If someone wants to include it somewhere on their Top 300 list, I won’t quibble. But those DJ’s words still ring bitterly in my ears after all these years:

“And now, the number one song of all time!”…


Beverly Greenia
Beverly Greenia at 2013-07-18 20:27 (UTC) (Link)
I remember this incident all too well. We were sitting on the front porch, gathered around the transistor radio. We had been carefully writing down every song that was played. Feelings of anticipation turned to feelings of regret at the hours of wasted time and battery power. The list was quickly converted to confetti.

BTW, the Internet, repository of everything pop culture, has no record of CKLW's Top 300 for 1974. CKLW published their lists in flyers (I don't remember which store we got them from: Merit Books, perhaps?) Unsurprisingly, no one seems to have kept the list from 1974.

For further nostalgic reading, I suggest a visit to the Classic CKLW page at http://www.thebig8.net/
One of the links on the page is from St. Ignatius' Mark Pattison, whose sister saved many of the other CKLW top song lists.
(Anonymous) at 2013-07-19 15:47 (UTC) (Link)


Maybe it was legit. After all, it was very popular at the time of the contest. I've heard this story several times and never once felt it might be a scam. But then, I'm an idiot savant at being naive.
charlesofcamden at 2013-07-19 16:40 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Fighting

Well, I've never doubted that those were the actual contest results; it's just that, as an impressionable teenager, I wanted to believe that the designation of #1 of all time actually had some validity that extended beyond the chart-topper of the immediate past. Which was of course very naive of me.
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