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‘American Top 40’ Flashback: July 4, 1970

Forty years ago this past weekend, a radio institution was born, as "American Top 40" began counting down the hits, from No. 40 to No. 1.

Sunday (July 4) marked the 40th anniversary of the first airing of “American Top 40” with Casey Kasem.

The National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame icon co-created the show that brought the Billboard Hot 100 into the homes of millions in audio form. Since, multiple generations of music fans have been introduced to following Billboard rankings, countless radio DJs have been inspired to enter the medium and artists have celebrated the honor of hearing Kasem pronounce their song “the biggest hit in the land.”

“Here we go with the top 40 hits of the nation this week on ‘American Top 40,’ the best-selling and most-played songs from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico,” Kasem said atop the program’s first broadcast.

“This is Casey Kasem in Hollywood, and in the next three hours, we’ll count down the 40 most popular hits in the United States this week, hot off the record charts of Billboard magazine for the week ending July 11, 1970.”

While traversing the Hot 100’s top 40 titles, Kasem would also incorporate other Billboard surveys, noting the No. 1 song each week on the country, dance and R&B charts.

Other features that grew into benchmarks included Kasem’s running down of several of the affiliates airing “AT40,” the host’s signature stories detailing artist and song trivia and, most notably, the show’s interactive “Long Distance Dedications.”

No episode of “AT40” was complete without Kasem’s trademark signoff: “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.” The weekly farewell affirmation was spoken over the music that outlasted even the show’s biggest No. 1 hits; the program’s closing theme/jingle, “Shuckatoom,” written by James R. Kirk and available only on pressings of “AT40,” would fade into local programming, signifying a six-day and 20-hour wait until Kasem would return.As a college intern at adult pop radio station WBMX/Boston, this author had the privilege of meeting Kasem in 1995 when the signal signed on as an affiliate. While he was recording liners for his show, I summoned the courage to ask Kasem if would also include one for my shift (a countdown, naturally) on Boston University’s WTBU. Kasem politely declined, citing contractual issues. Instead of being disappointed, however, I was simply happy to have spoken with the legend.

After finishing the session, before turning away from the mic, Kasem remembered the eager intern still in the room. He said while he couldn’t endorse a station not airing his show, he could offer a compromise.

To this day, a brief recording of “Hi, this is Casey Kasem, and you’re listening to Gary Trust!” remains a prized possession.As fans of music, radio and an American pop culture institution mark the 40th anniversary of the launch of the program that reshaped the landscape of syndicated programming, here is a look at the select 40 songs that comprised the first “American Top 40.”

As always, the initial show featured a mix of superstars (the Beatles, Elvis Presley) and one-hit wonders enjoying their moment in the musical spotlight (Crabby Appleton, the Pipkins). Ironically, “AT40” began with Marvin Gaye’s song entitled “The End of Our Road.”

“American Top 40,” July 4, 1970 (a countdown of the Billboard Hot 100 dated July 11, 1970):

No. 40, “The End of Our Road,” Marvin Gaye
No. 39, “Silver Bird,” Mark Lindsay
No. 38, “Spill the Wine,” Eric Burdon and War
No. 37, “Go Back,” Crabby Appleton
No. 36, “I Just Can’t Help Believing,” B.J. Thomas

No. 35, “Spirit in the Dark,” Aretha Franklin and the Dixie Flyers
No. 34, “Mississippi,” John Phillips
No. 33, “Westbound #9,” the Flaming Ember
No. 32, “It’s All in the Game,” Four Tops
No. 31, “Save the Country,” the 5th Dimension“American Top 40,” July 4, 1970 (a countdown of the Billboard Hot 100 dated July 11, 1970):

No. 30, “Ohio,” Crosby, Stills Nash & Young
No. 29, “Everything Is Beautiful,” Ray Stevens
No. 28, “Check Out Your Mind,” the Impressions
No. 27, “Question,” the Moody Blues
No. 26, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” Stevie Wonder

No. 25, “Sugar, Sugar,” Wilson Pickett
No. 24, “Teach Your Children,” Crosby, Stills Nash & Young
No. 23, “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?,” the Poppy Family (featuring Susan Jacks
No. 22, “Love on a Two-Way Street,” the Moments
No. 21, “Mississippi Queen,” Mountain“American Top 40,” July 4, 1970 (a countdown of the Billboard Hot 100 dated July 11, 1970):

No. 20, “Make It With You,” Bread
No. 19, “Are You Ready?,” Pacific Gas and Electric
No. 18, “Love Land,” Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
No. 17, “Tighter, Tighter,” Alive & Kicking
No. 16, “My Baby Loves Lovin’,” White Plains

No. 15, “A Song of Joy (Himno A La Alegria),” Miguel Rios
No. 14, “United We Stand,” the Brotherhood of Man
No. 13, “Get Ready,” Rare Earth
No. 12, “O-o-h Child,” the 5 Stairsteps
No. 11, “Gimme Dat Ding,” the Pipkins“American Top 40,” July 4, 1970 (a countdown of the Billboard Hot 100 dated July 11, 1970):

No. 10, “Hitchin’ a Ride,” Vanity Fare
No. 9, “The Wonder of You,” Elvis Presley
No. 8, “The Long and Winding Road,” the Beatles
No. 7, “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” Carpenters
No. 6, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” Melanie with the Edwin Hawkins Singers

No. 5, “Band of Gold,” Freda Payne
No. 4, “Ride Captain Ride,” Blues Image
No. 3, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” the Temptations
No. 2, “The Love You Save,” Jackson 5

No. 1, “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” Three Dog Night

(Click here for an in-depth history of “American Top 40,” from its inception through its most recent broadcast. On its official website, listen to artists, including Christina Aguilera, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, paying tribute to the show’s landmark anniversary).