I was listening this morning to “Ob-Li-Di Ob-La-Da” by the Beatles when I remembered the song was never released as a single. That’s always suprised me since it’s a song that screams “Top 40 hit”, and AFAIK Top 40 stations wouldn’t play album cuts until the nineties. (At least that’s what I remember from listening to Top 40 radio in the eighties, when I was a child.) Did songs like “Ob-Li-Di” get played on Top 40 radio back then? Would this happen only to superstar releases or could this happen to more obscure artists? And did it ever upset you when the station would play the song and you found out you couldn’t get it as a 45?
Not really an answer to your question, but a cover of Ob-Li-Di Ob-La-Da was released in the UK by The Marmalade and was a huge hit for them, going to #1 in the UK in early 1969, not long after it had appeared on The White Album.
I expect the Beatles felt that having their version as a single as well was unnecessary and that it might not do so well as everybody already had (or was sick of) Marmalade’s version!
WIBG in Philadelphia would play album cuts infrequently in the mid-1960s, but as the station grew more savvy about its commercial interests, that practice slacked off. I eventually switched to WDAS-FM for such.
I guess so. I never bought a Beatles record in my life, and I knew the song very well. So I must have heard it on WIXY.
Generally not. The one major exception I can think of is when Paul McCartney released his first solo album without issuing a single, my local Top 40 stations nonetheless put the tracks “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “Every Night” into regular rotation.
Not much. That’s why there were radio versions of songs that were much shorter.
Eventually DJs realized that they could play complete album tracks while performing non-DJ activities.
Album cuts were played on AOR and college radio.
Top 40 stations, by their very definition, played top 40 singles. In the early 60s, though, DJs had some leeway in what they could play on the air, and some would choose album cuts from time to time. This was eventually eliminated as playlists were formed by committees, not DJs.
One of the members of the Marmalade ended up opening a British-style pub in Canoga Park, CA. When I worked in the area in the late 80s, my British boss & I would often go there for lunch.
Album stations would play album cuts.
Top 40 stations would play up to 3 minutes. I think longer cuts might be played short or talked over.
El Paso (Marty Robbins) a C&W ballad in 1959 which was a crossover hit, came out in 3 and 4.5 minute single versions to not eliminate airplay. I recall hearing it was the first single to go over the 3 minute mark.
The Beatles were the ultimate exception. Every song of theirs was popular, not just the officially released singles. It wouldn’t be surprising to have Beatles Blocks or other gimmicks to get more of their stuff into the playlist.
Top 40 also changed a lot over the years. Playlist grew smaller and tighter. Some stations played only 25 or so of the big hits. Program directors took over all control from the jocks. But these changes happened at different speeds in different cities and different stations. New York and Los Angeles were more likely to have a station with the tightest playlist as well as a station with the loosest.
The 60s and 70s weren’t a “time.” They have very little in common. Twenty years is several generations in the music industry. It’s like asking about the internet in the 90s and 00s from the perspective of 2040.
I clearly remember “Got to Get You into My Life” played a ton during the 1966-67 period-it was never released as a single, but was catchy enough that it should have been one. Back then tho no song off of an “album” would ever also be a “single”, for some reason (I’m not sure when that changed, or the whys or wherefores).
If it was a really, really big group, like the Beatles, a Top 40 station might slip in a song like Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, or the long version of the Doors’ Light My Fire. Generally, it would happen in the evenings.
Actually, Top 40 radio stations usually subdivided their programming into dayparts. Morning drive time showcased shorter, upbeat songs. During midday, they were more likely to play pop-ish artists like Herman’s Hermits or the Carpenters. Later in the afternoon and especially in the evening, they’d lean more to rock than pop. Some stations were known for “breaking” unknown acts, while others stuck to what was already on the charts.
The reason stations played short songs was because of commercials. At that time, the FCC had a limit of 18-20 minutes of commercials per hour. Because that was the upper limit, that’s what the station played. DJ’s usually couldn’t go more than 6 or 7 minutes before they had to play more commercials.
In the UK, yes. Record buyers had less money than in the US, and got very angry if you included a single they already bought on an album. (There were three formats in the early 60s in the UK, singles, albums, and four-song EPs. Songs would appear on one of the three and that was it).
In the US, it was the opposite: singles were seen as promotional for the album and the album always contained hit singles. US buyers didn’t mind buying the same song twice.
Take a look at the Beatles discography in the US vs. the UK prior to Revolver. The US albums contained material from UK albums, singles, and EPs and different mightily from the UK version.
As time went on, UK started following US practices.
I recall that song being released as a single in the mid-70s.
KHJ and KTNQ were the big AM Top 40 stations in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, and they certainly played album cuts. All of “Stairway to Heaven”, which was never released as a single; the full 5 minute album version of “My Sharona” (but never the album version of “Good Girls Don’t” with its line about “sitting on your face”). KHJ frequently played a medley of “Another Brick in the Wall Parts 1, 2, and 3”. While Part 2 was the big hit single, Parts 1 and 3 were strictly album cuts. They would even play hits from local bands that never made it big outside of the area and never charted nationally.
Both stations were gone by 1980 or so, KTNQ moved to FM, KHJ jumped on the Urban Cowboy bandwagon and went country. That was about the time I switched to AOR/punk/new-wave stations and stopped listening to Top 40, so I don’t what the playlists were like in the 1980s.
Does no one remember the 17-minute hit? You cant even upload the full thing to Youtube now, but they used to play it on commercial stations on occasion.
Ah yes, long v. short versions of Light My Fire. It was quite rare to hear the full version on Top 40; to this day I can tell you exactly where the short version made the segue from a few notes into the instrumental part in the middle, to a few bars before the end of it.
I really didn’t become a regular listener of Top 40 radio stations until the late 70s but Beatles songs–both singles and album cuts–were still heard fairly often. As for other groups, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”–an album cut–got a surprising amount of Top 40 station airplay. In fact, when Zeppelin’s “In Through the Out Door” was released in 1979, both the AM Top 40 stations where I lived played all the cuts from the album on a regular basis.