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Listen: Classic Soul’s Top 100: As Heard In 1995

Dusty Radio 1390 WGCI Chicago Dusty Radio Sean Ross DustiesThe poster is one of my proudest souvenirs from my tenure at WGCI-AM (Dustyradio 1390) Chicago in the mid-‘90s. “The 1995 Edition of the Top 100 Dusties” was compiled from an ongoing tabulation of requests, reader ballots in the Chicago Defender, and “the judgment of the programming department,” (which basically consisted of finding a place for those big-testing songs that didn’t generate requests, perhaps because they played often enough that nobody needed to make a phone call to hear them).

WGCI-AM had launched in the early ‘90s as a flanker to the then-new and phenomenal Adult R&B WVAZ (V103). As a radio format, R&B Oldies existed on only a handful of stations, many on ABC Radio Networks’ newly launched satellite format. At the 1994 NAB Radio Show, there was an Oldies roundtable room. The R&B Oldies table, as I recall, had four people, although two of the other three were ABC PD Steve Harris and WRKS (Kiss FM) New York PD Vinny Brown, who had just taken that station to a newer and equally phenomenal gold-based Adult R&B format. I remember it as the best roundtable discussion ever.

In Oldies and Classic Rock, the consensus hits had pretty much taken shape over the previous years and the dreaded “top 300” could be heard market to market with relatively few variations. In R&B Oldies, it was a new and exciting process. There turned out to be commonalities as well, but local still mattered.

I’ve made a Spotify playlist of the Top 100 as it existed in early 1995, minus one unavailable song and including three double-sided hits. If you play it from the beginning, you’re starting at No. 100 (“I Will Survive”) and working your way to No. 1. Here’s the format as it existed in its earliest days.

The focus was still on the ‘60s and ‘70s. Dustyradio 1390 was about a decade newer than its pop counterpart, WJMK (Majic 104.3), which was still a ‘50s and ‘60s radio station—a pattern that continues with R&B oldies to this day—but the ‘80s still belonged mostly to Adult R&B WVAZ (V103) and the decade is represented here by only a few titles.

That’s why there’s no solo Michael Jackson, no Prince, no Anita Baker, only one Luther Vandross title, and no Maze, “Before I Let Go,” the song so key to the Adult R&B format now that Beyoncé couldn’t wrap up “Homecoming” without it. At the time, those songs were barely a decade old and from an era when R&B radio had finally shifted to FM, meaning that most listeners had never heard them on an AM music station. And at that point, the notion of “Don’t Stop Believin’”or “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” on the Oldies format was years away as well. 

The pre-Motown era was mostly gone. Soul music changed so dramatically between 1964-67 that much of what came before sounded too old. There are exceptions here—“For Your Precious Love”; “You Send Me”; “I Only Have Eyes For You”—but the songs on this list are almost all of those that were big enough to endure into the ‘90s, the exceptions that proved the rule.

There was a lot of “only in Chicago.” Jeffree’s “Love’s Gonna Last” was a 1978 album track from an MCA project that yielded only one minor chart single. But Chicago’s stepper scene made it a local anthem. While they occupied a bigger place in the R&B canon nationally, “steppers sets” are also why Stevie Wonder’s “Hey Love” is also bigger on this countdown than many of his national pop hits. Or why Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “Everybody Needs Love” is even bigger than “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Or why the most enduring Martha & the Vandellas song is “My Baby Loves Me.”

Slow jams ruled. That was the case everywhere in R&B Oldies/Adult R&B. When the Jammin’ Oldies format came along a few years later, it emphasized tempo, but many of its biggest songs were relative trifles for Dustyradio 1390 listeners. (“I Will Survive” got enough requests to squeak into the countdown, but it occupied a much different place in the firmament.)

What mattered were the epic eight-minute ballads, often songs that were never singles and thus never played at pop radio. “Let’s Stay Together” is here, but so is Al Green’s “Love And Happiness,” which became the “Stairway to Heaven” of R&B Oldies and Adult R&B for many years. Natalie Cole is represented not by “This Will Be,” but by “I’m Catching Hell.” The ballads were, by and large, both the songs that tested and got requests.

There’s one song missing in Spotify. I’m pleased to report that the Notations’ “I’m Still Here,” a local hit but also a fixture among Art Laboe’s Southern California slow jams, is still in print. So is “Love’s Gonna Last,” although to find it on Spotify, one has to figure out that it appears without an artist name on a steppers’ compilation. What’s missing is Richard “Dimples” Field’s 1981 “She’s Got Papers On Me,” which came in at No. 65 and would otherwise be between Jackie Wilson and Gladys Knight.

Here’s the Top 100 Dusties, as heard in early 1995:

1 – Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come” (1965)

2 – Marvin Gaye, “What’s Goin’ On” (71)

3 – Al Green, “Love & Happiness” (73)

4 – Temptations, “My Girl” (65)

5 – Marvin Gaye, “Let’s Get It On” (73)

6 – Betty Wright, “Tonight Is The Night (Live”) (78)

7 – Aretha Franklin, “Respect”/”Dr. Feelgood” (67)

8 – Earth, Wind & Fire,” Reasons (Live) (75)

9 – Impressions f/Jerry Butler, “For Your Precious Love” (58)

10 – Marvin Gaye, “Sexual Healing” (82)

11 – Gladys Knight & Pips, “Everybody Needs Love” (67)

12 – Heatwave, “Always & Forever” (77)

13 – Smokey Robinson & Miracles, “Ooo Baby Baby” (65)

14 – Marvin Gaye, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” (68)

15 – Bettye Swann, “Make Me Yours” (67)

16 – Dells, “Oh What A Night” (69)

17 – Isley Brothers, “For The Love Of You” (75)

18 – Luther Vandross, “A House Is Not A Home” (81)

19 – Chic, “Good Times” (79)

20 – Chi-Lites, “Have You Seen Her” (71)

21 – James Brown, “The Payback” (74)

22 – Dells, “Stay In My Corner” (68)

23 – Temptations, “I Wish It Would Rain” (68)

24 – Jeffree, “Love’s Gonna Last” (78)

25 – Sam Cooke, “You Send Me” (57)

26 – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, “Your Precious Love” (67)

27 – Spinners, “Love Don’t Love Nobody” (74)

28 – Smokey Robinson & Miracles, “Tracks Of My Tears” (65)

29 – Natalie Cole, “I’m Catching Hell” (78)

30 – Al Green, “Let’s Stay Together” (72)

31 – Funkadelic, “One Nation Under A Groove” (78)

32 – Earth, Wind & Fire, “Devotion (Live)” (75)

33 – Flamingos, “I Only Have Eyes For You” (59)

34 – Marvin Gaye, “Distant Lover (Live)” (74)

35 – Temptations, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” (71)

36 – Mary Wells, “My Guy” (64)

37 – Chi-Lites, “Oh Girl” (72)

38 – L.T.D., “Love Ballad” (76)

39 – Spinners, “It’s A Shame” (70)

40 – Teddy Pendergrass, “Close The Door” (78)

41 – Jerry Butler, “He Will Break Your Heart” (60)

42 – Aretha Franklin, “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”/”Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” (67)

43 – Johnnie Taylor, “Disco Lady” (76)

44 – Gladys Knight & Pips, “Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)” (73)

45 – Impressions, “I’m So Proud” (64)

46 – Stylistics, “You Make Me Feel Brand New” (74)

47 – O’Jays, “For The Love Of Money” (74)

48 – Percy Sledge, “When A Man Loves A Woman” (66)

49 – Manhattans, “Kiss And Say Goodbye” (76)

50 – Temptations, “Papa Was A Rollng Stone” (72)

51 – Persuaders, “Thin Line Between Love And Hate” (71)

52 – Isley Brothers, “That Lady” (73)

53 – Rose Royce, “Wishing On A Star” (77)

54 – Barry White, “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me” (77)

55 – Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, “I Miss You” (72)

56 – Whispers, “Lady” (80)

57 – Gene Chandler, “Rainbow” (63)

58 – Earth, Wind & Fire, “Shining Star’ (75)

59 – Isley Brothers, “Hello It’s Me” (74)

60 – Bobby Womack, “If You Think You’re Lonely Now” (82)

61 – Stevie Wonder, “Hey Love” (67)

62 – Luther Ingram, “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right)” (72)

63 – Four Tops, “Still Water (Love)” (70)

64 – Jackie Wilson, “Lonely Teardrops” (58)

65 – Richard “Dimples” Fields, “She’s Got Papers On Me” (81)

66 – Gladys Knight & Pips, “Midnight Train To Georgia” (73)

67 – Parliament, “Flashlight” (78)

68 – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, “If This World Were Mine”/”If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” (68)

69 – Dells, “Give Your Baby A Standing Ovation” (73)

70 – William Bell, “Trying To Love Two” (77)

71 – James Brown, It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World (66)

72 – Diana Ross & Supremes, “Someday We’ll Be Together” (69)

73 – Smokey Robinson, “Cruisin’” (79)

74 – Tyrone Davis, “Turn Back The Hands Of Time” (70)

75 – Spinners, “Sadie” (75)

76 – Denise LaSalle, “Trapped By A Thing Called Love” (71)

77 – Billy Paul, “Me & Mrs. Jones” (72)

78 – Martha & the Vandellas, “My Baby Loves Me” (66)

79 – O’Jays, “Forever Mine” (79)

80 – Four Tops, “Ask The Lonely” (65)

81 – Floaters, “Float On” (77)

82 – Commodores, “Zoom” (77)

83 – Platters, “I Love You 1000 Times” (66)

84 – Lenny Williams, “’Cause I Love You” (79)

85 – Johnnie Taylor, “Cheaper To Keep Her” (73)

86 – Delfonics, “La La Means I Love You” (68)

87 – Stevie Wonder, “I Wish” (76)

88 – Emotions, “Best Of My Love” (77)

89 – Al Hudson & One Way, “Something In The Past” (80)

90 – Five Stairsteps, “O-O-H Child” (70)

91 – Isaac Hayes, “I Stand Accused” (70)

92 – Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There” (70)

93 – Jackie Ross, “Selfish One” (64)

94 – Dorothy Moore, “Misty Blue” (76)

95 – Undisputed Truth, “Smiling Faces Sometimes” (71)

96 – Al Green, “For The Good Times” (72)

97 – Young-Holt Unlimited, “Soulful Strut” (68)

98 – B.B. King, “The Thrill Is Gone” (70)

99 – Notations, “I’m Still Here” (71)

100 – Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive” (79)

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  1. Mark says

    I guess you already know that the version of “The Thrill is Gone” on the Spotify playlist is a remake duet with Tracy Chapman, not the original. Considering that it wasn’t that many years ago that the Weather Channel played the instrumental breaks from the original as one of the local forecast cuts, it’s surprising that the original isn’t on Spotify.

    1. Sean Ross says

      Thanks, Mark. Fixed. The duet is gone. The duet is gone away,

  2. Mike says

    This brings back memories of Oakland’s 1310 KDIA (“The Boss of the Bay”), which, when I moved to SF in 1991, was a ’60s-based R&B oldies station that was just starting to sprinkle ’70s into the mix. I discovered them the week I moved there and thought I’d died and gone to soul heaven — they played James Brown 3 times an hour! — and now I know why they also eventually played “I’m Catching Hell” and “She’s Got Papers” so often.

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