Curious Case of The Groovy Grubworm 2

The Curious Case of The ‘Groovy Grubworm’ (and other chart confusion) – Part One

Look at the gap between Billboard and Cashbox on “Wings Upon Your Horns” by Loretta Lynn. #1 in Cashbox and #11 in Billboard. That’s quite a difference, although I read somewhere that some of Billboard’s reporting stations found the topic matter too racy and banned the record .

I recently obtained Joel Whitburn’s new book on the Music Vendor / Record World pop charts from 1954-1982. Because Record World was more sales oriented than Billboard, there are some significant differences between the two charts. Because the genesis of the original article was “Groovy Grubworm” by Harlow Wilcox and the Oakies (#1 Cashbox country / #42 Billboard country) , I started with that song. Unfortunately I don’t have the Record World country charts except for the 1970s, but the Record World pop charts tend not to lend clarity to this particular issue as Record World had “Groovy Grubworm” do better on its pop charts than did either Cashbox or Billboard, with the song peaking at #23 and hanging on the charts for 13 weeks .

I haven’t had much time to peruse the book but it seems that country songs did a little better over the years on Record World than they did on Billboard – that may be a mistaken impression. I did notice that “A Boy Named Sue” which got marooned at #2 behind the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” , pushed past the Stones the week of September 6, 1969 for a one week stay at #1 on the pop charts.

Noted sage and country historian Ken Johnson feels that charts were subject to some manipulation; moreover, charts were tallied manually rather than by computer and were subject to considerable error and possible manipulation. According to Ken “sometimes as easy as the record label rep just asking the reporting record shop or radio station to report a particular record as their top seller or most requested item in return for some type of “consideration.”.

Of course, the “X” factor is regional hits. Four records particularly come to mind for me from 1968 when I lived in the Norfolk, VA area. None of the four records were monsters nationally but all four were top five records in our area according to the two radio stations that covered the area, WCMS-AM in Norfolk, VA and WTID-AM in Newport News, VA. The two stations were independently owned and operated yet both showed the four songs as huge hits in the area – and all received much airplay. WCMS printed a top forty chart weekly. WTID had a Friday night Top Five Countdown

“Undo The Right” by Johnny Bush spent five weeks at #1 on WCMS and it reached #1 for a week or two on WTID. Nationally the record reached #10

“Sounds of Goodbye” by George Morgan reached the top three on both stations. Nationally the record hit #31 but the song was recorded and released by Tommy Cash and the Gosdin Brothers, splitting the national chart action

“Punish Me Tomorrow” by Carl Butler & Pearl hit the top five on both stations – it reached #28 on the national charts. The flip side “Goodbye Tennessee” also received airplay on both stations placing in the top forty on WCMS (“Goodbye Tennessee” did not reach the national charts).

In November and December 1968, “Got Leaving On Her Mind” by Mac Wiseman received much airplay on both stations – I don’t know where it peaked on WCMS because Dad was transferred to London, England and we left the USA the first week of January 1969. It had reached #3 locally as of that week but I suspect it was on its way down – nationally it peaked at #54. I think the single was the only one released on MGM by Wiseman – the record store I frequented said it flew off the shelves

I wish I could get my hands on the WCMS charts my mother threw away when we moved – there were quite a few songs that were national hits that received little airplay on WCMS (or in some cases, the record was flipped by local DJs, splitting the local airplay).

Curious Case of The Groovy Grubworm 1

The Curious Case of The ‘Groovy Grubworm’ (and other chart confusion) – Part One

History is written by the victors” – often attributed to Winston Spencer Churchill but of unknown origin.

Thanks to the many fine volumes of Billboard charts compiled by Joel Whitburn, and the fact that Billboard is still published today, most fans tend to think of Billboard as being the authoritative source for charting the success and/or popularity of recordings. In the year 2011 that undoubtedly is true, but for much of the history of country music and the country music charts, that was not the case. From 1952 until the late 1980s, Billboard and Cashbox battled it out as the national authority for charting records. In the realm of country music, Billboard and Cashbox were of equal importance with as many country radio stations basing their weekly countdown shows on the Cashbox charts as on the Billboard charts. Normally this presented little controversy as most Billboard #1s made it to #1 on Cashbox, and vice versa. Even when such was not the case, a song reaching #1 on one chart usually would be a top three record on the other chart, or occasionally top five.

The Billboard and Cashbox charts did not measure popularity in quite the same manner. In his fascinating autobiography Me, The Mob and Music, rock artist Tommy James had the following to say:

“…The big three trade papers were Record World, Cashbox and Billboard. Billboard was always the most difficult to deal with. Cashbox had a slant toward retail. It focused on the money generated from records. Record World had a slant toward radio airplay. Billboard claimed to be in the middle. The problem with that was that when you put out a record, back then things happened fast.

In six weeks you needed a new record, that’s how quickly the turnover was if you wanted to stay constantly on the charts. If you put out a record and it generated some excitement, it immediately went on the radio. That would be reflected in Record World. But it would take two or three weeks after you heard a song on the radio before the sales figures would start to hit and the stores would start to report it. That was when your record would start charting in Cashbox. So there was a lag time between those two papers. Billboard claimed to chart records between radio play and sales. But you would always be two to three weeks further ahead in airplay than you were in sales …

… And now because the other trade papers collapsed over the years, Billboard, by attrition, became the keeper of the flame. When young researchers and historians go back to check the archives for a record’s history, they inevitably get a skewed sense of how popular it really was.”

I’m not sure I completely agree with Tommy James, but there is considerable truth in his observations. While the charts usually charted records in approximately the same range, sometimes there were outliers, with a record sometimes making a much bigger impression on one chart than the other, such as Johnny Darrell’s original recorded version of “The Green Green Grass of Home” reaching #12 on Cashbox (it also charted on Record World) but not charting at all on Billboard’s Country Chart. This phenomena normally would occur on songs not reaching the Top 10 on either chart. The most noteworthy outlier to reach #1 was that of the instrumental hit “Groovy Grubworm” by Harlow Wilcox and the Oakies. More about that record a little later.

During the 1970s more traditionally based artists seemed to fare better on the Cashbox charts than on Billboard (the same could be said of the Record World charts as well, but we’ll discuss Record World at another time). Both of the country radio stations I listened to during my high school and college years, WCMS in Norfolk, VA and WHOO in Orlando, FL presented their own local charts that seemed to track more closely with Cashbox than with Billboard.

When you attended a stage show for a country artist from the 1960s, 70s, or 80s, the artist will often introduce a song as a song “that went #1 for me in year 19xx…”, yet when you check on Wikipedia or one of the Joel Whitburn compendiums you’ll see that Billboard did not have the record reaching #1. That doesn’t mean the artist was lying to you – it could mean that the song reached #1 on Cashbox or Record World.

Below you will find a partial list of records reaching #1 on Cashbox but not Billboard. My Cashbox sources are complete only for the years 1958-1982 so there are undoubtedly other records that reached #1 on Cashbox, but not on Billboard. Some of these records were huge hits indeed and it is puzzling that they did not get to #1 on Billboard. Sometimes it was a matter of timing. For instance, Gene Watson’s “Love In The Hot Afternoon” reached #1 in virtually every market but topped out at #3 in both Billboard and Cashbox. Released originally on the small Resco label, the record was picked up by Capitol after it had topped the charts in Texas, California and the southwest and was already sliding down the charts in those areas.

We will comment further in Part 2,

Welcome Aboard

Welcome to PWD’s Country Corner (or to be more exact pwdscountrycorner.com).  Here you will find articles on various aspects of classic country music plus occasional other topics. Many of the articles were originally posted on other web sites such the County Universe, My Kind of County and the 9513.com; however they are my articles. Anything re-posted from other websites will be updated and corrected (if necessary)

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