Saturday, September 26, 2009

This Week's Review -- September 25, 1976

There were eight new songs debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Among the new singles are a pretty fair variety of styles representative of the era, even while one of those tunes was influenced by nostalgia for a bygone era.

Tyrone Davis - Give it Up (Turn it Loose) Tyrone Davis - Give it Up (Turn It Loose): The Very Best of the Columbia Years - Give it Up (Turn It Loose)

Chicago native Tyrone Davis is best known for his 1970 hit "Turn Back the Hands of Time." In 1976, he had one last song reach the Billboard pop chart with the disco-influenced "Give it Up (Turn it Loose)." Although Davis still charted afterward on the R&B survey, this would be his last hurrah on the Hot 100. The song just scratched the Top 40, reaching #38.

For fans remembering the 1970 hit, the female backing singers on "Give it Up" sound familiar. However, the backing music is more muted and detracts from the sound; where "Turn Back the Hands of Time" is propelled by its rhythm section, in "Give it Up" it's simply along for the ride.

Aerosmith - Home Tonight (Not available as MP3)

As part of Aerosmith's first flush of major success in the mid-1970s, fans often point to their LP Rocks as one of their best. Even though Toys in the Attic (their previous effort) included two huge hits that are still radio staples today ("Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion"), Rocks is a great example of the group's sound. With two great Aerosmith rockers that are often overlooked ("Last Child" and "Back in the Saddle"), the album is a great starting point for anybody who wants an introduction to the group's music beyond the stuff heard on the radio.

"Home Tonight" is the ballad that closes the album, a way for the band to say "goodbye" to fans listening to the LP. As a single release, it only peaked at a disappointing #71, lasting only four weeks on the survey.

(The link below does not lead to an MP3. Instead, it lets you take a listen to the song, but the MP3 is only available as part of the digital download of the Rocks album. I'm not sure why most of the 1970s Aerosmith catalog isn't yet available through iTunes yet.)

Alice Cooper - I Never Cry Alice Cooper - Goes to Hell - I Never Cry

Alice Cooper (the alter ego of Vincent Furnier) spent the first half of the 1970s shocking the public and somehow seemingly subverting American youth culture. So after five years of being held up by critics as an example of American moral turpitude and called everything but a child of God, Alice Cooper comes out with an LP titled Alice Cooper Goes to Hell...and then followed that up by issuing a single that laid bare his vulnerable side?!

The song was allegedly written about Furnier beginning to come to grips with his drinking problem. He would spend part of the next year in rehab, but before seeking professional help, he wrote a song to help deal with the problem. Like many cases of catharsis via songwriting, the song comes across as honest, direct, straightforward and vulnerable. For a performer whose stage act featured a lot of theatrical diversions, recording a song like that was a sign of maturity.

In short, it may be one of his best songs, even if it takes fans a while to realize it.

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band - I'll Play the Fool Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band - Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band - I'll Play the Fool

This was the debut song for a band that was devised to hearken back to the 1930s era "big band" sound but updated for disco. The vocals were retro and the instruments recalled Cab Calloway at his peak even if the beats were calling dancers onto the floor of a disco instead of a dinner club or roadhouse. Onstage, the band wore zoot suits and other relics while using vintage microphones and props to achieve the "look" to match the sound.

"I'll Play the Fool" was gone from the charts after only three weeks but its followup was the medley of "Whispering/Cherchez Le Femme/Se Si Bon" which lasted longer. By 1980, Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band was history and two of its members were taking the retro idea to a different audience with Kid Creole & the Coconuts.

Captain & Tennille - Muskrat Love Captain & Tennille - Ultimate Collection: Captain & Tennille - Muskrat Love

"Muskrat Love" may be one of the most maligned songs of the 1970s, one of those tunes that gets brought up in conversations about whether different decades were better or worse music-wise. Once, I was asked about how the music business went from a peak in the 1960s (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, CCR, Hendrix, The Who) to Carly Simon, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond and "Muskrat Love"? I immediately pointed out that even songs like Bobby Goldsboro's"Honey" and Richard Harris's "MacArthur Park" scored big in the 1960s but that point was quickly discredited.

The shame is that people have forgotten just how big Captain & Tennille were in the mid 70s. With "Muskrat Love" the husband-and-wife team scored their fifth Top 5 smash in just over a year. Of course, the hits dropped off after "Muskrat Love" for a couple of years but it's not known if that was the result of their TV show or burnout from all the touring rather than a public brushback after sending a song about two rats in love (complete with a synthesizer rendition of rats getting freaky) to the Top 40.

A lot of people don't realize that Captain & Tennille weren't the first act to chart with "Muskrat Love." The group America placed it on the chart in 1973, hitting #67. On second look, the group's next two singles failed to chart on the Hot 100 at all. So maybe there is something to the argument that the song is toxic...

However, even if Captain & Tennille are often held out as an example of how vanilla and pedestrian popular music could get in the 1970s, it still should be remembered that Toni Tennille was a gifted with a beautiful voice and Daryl Dragon (that's the real name of The Captain) was a highly competent bandleader. Tennille could be sweet or sassy ("Shop Around") or sexy ("You Never Done it Like That"), even if they were dismissed by more serious music fans for being part of the time they happened to occupy.

Steely Dan - The Fez Steely Dan - The Royal Scam - The Fez

By 1976, Steely Dan was still evolving. After a short string of catchy radio-friendly singles like "Do it Again," Reeling in the Years" and "Rikki, Don't Lose That Number" the group's core members Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were turning their energies toward LP-length statements. Their '76 LP The Royal Scam -- considered to be perhaps the weakest of the group's offerings -- was a collection of stories about miscreants and malcontents; it was dark and moody, with lyrics that often bordered on snide and sarcastic. There were two singles culled from the album, but as songs that weren't directed towards radio airplay neither managed to make the Top 40.

"The Fez" is more of a musical composition than a song. There are long instrumental bits between the few lines of lyrics. With keyboard work by Paul Griffin that was so integral to the song he earned a songwriter credit, the jazz-influenced song points toward the studio precision that was a hallmark of the band's next LP Aja.

Sun - Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic) Sun - The Greatest Hits - Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic)

Stepping away from music for a the 1970s, manufacturers had improved plastic to the point where many consumers began using products that were disposable. Among those items were cigarette lighters: the old-fashioned metal Zippo lighters that required replacement flints and fluid refills gave way to cheaper plastic models that could be tossed out once they ran out of fluid. Among the companies offering these lighters was Bic. One well-remembered advertisement of the 1970s was "Flick My Bic," which closely followed one of the best rules of marketing...sexual double entendres sell. It didn't take much to realize another meaning of "flick my bic" that didn't involve a lighter.

The sexual connotation certainly applied to the song "Wanna Make Love (Come Flick My Bic)." The only Hot 100 hit Sun ever had, it was short-lived on the chart. Despite the fact that "Flick My Bic" had a lusty component in its lyric, it was a great funk tune with a robotic-sounding "voice" that would often appear in R&B (and later on, Hip-hop) songs well into the next decade. In that sense, the song could have played well even in the early 1980s along with tunes like Skyy's "Call Me" and The Dazz Band's "Let it Whip."

Neil Sedaka - You Gotta Make Your Own Sunshine (Not available as MP3)

"You Gotta Make Your Own Sunshine" was the first single of Sedaka's mid-70s comeback to miss the Top 40. A bouncy, upbeat tune it doesn't get old even if it does sound like a lot of his other material ("That's Where the Music Takes Me," for example). It's a shame that more Sedaka material isn't available in a digital format.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

This week's review -- September 21, 1974

This was a very good week for new singles. Out of 11 new listings, all but two made the Top 40. Furthermore, four were Top 10-bound and one (also the only two-sided hit) went all the way to the #1 position. Two of the songs were the same tune, featuring versions by its songwriter and a more famous singer handling the cover. Lastly, one song was the only Top 40 hit to be sung partially in Polish.

John Denver - "Back Home Again" John Denver - Back Home Again - Back Home Again

It really doesn't have to be explained to those who lived through the era...but John Denver was huge in 1974. He was an artist who not only had vast legions of fans who bought enough records to give him two #1 singles on Billboard's Hot 100, a country #1 and a #1 LP that year, he also had a large number of detractors who were cynical of Denver's country/folk-influenced music and "clean living" public persona. Not a lot of artists can be so loved and hated at the same time, but for some reason the 1970s had its fair share of them.

Denver's LP Back Home Again hit #1 on the album charts, featured Denver's #1 single "Annie's Song" and the title track, which stalled at #5 on the Hot 100 but topped Billboard's country and adult contemporary surveys. The song "Back Home Again" would win the Song of the Year award from the Country Music Association, where Charlie Rich famously burned the envelope when he read that Denver had also won the night's top award (Entertainer of the Year) as well.

As a song, "Back Home Again" is a folksy celebration of coming back from a tour and being able to enjoy being home at last. There's even a nod to Denver's earlier #1 single from '74 with the line Your mother called last Friday, "Sunshine" made her cry... I've found that I've grown to appreciate the sentiment behind the song a lot more as I've matured.

Carl Carlton - "Everlasting Love" Carl Carlton - Everlasting: The Best of Carl Carlton - Everlasting Love

There aren't many songs good enough to be done in different styles and still sound fresh. In last week's list, I mentioned that "MacArthur Park" was recorded at least four times in hit versions and nearly all were heavily panned. In the case of "Everlasting Love," it was done four times -- in four different decades -- and each version hit the Top 40. In 1967, soul singer Robert Knight did the first hit version, taking it to #13. Carl Carlton's disco-flavored remake followed in 1974 and it peaked at #6. A duet by Rex Smith and Rachel Sweet just scratched the Top 40 in 1981. Finally, Gloria Estefan took the song to #27 in 1994. Additionally, a cover of the song by the group Love Affair topped the UK charts in 1968 and a minor country hit by Narvel Felts charted in 1979.

Of all these versions, it it Carlton's that is the best-known. The only bad thing that can be said about the song is that it's really short; at just under three minutes, the song sounded great on the radio but was little more than a warm-up on the dance floor. However, considering the way later disco hits could be remixed and reworked into longer "dance" versions (some of which were far too long)...perhaps the "leave the audience wanting more" idea was part of what made this hit work.

The Eagles - "James Dean" Eagles - On the Border - James Dean

For all the Eagles songs that still get airplay, there are a few that aren't immediately recognized by casual fans. "James Dean" is one of the handful of charting hits by the group that doesn't seem to have found its way into heavy rotation on classic rock stations. Taken from the LP On the Border, the group was still making the transition from a country-rock basis to more of that rock and pop synthesis that established them with record buyers.

"James Dean" was a song about the 1950s icon and was written by Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey with their buddies Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther. Musically, it sounds a lot like Loggins & Messina's "Your Mama Don't Dance." The song only made it as high as #77 and dropped off the chart after three weeks; however, The Eagles' next single "Best of My Love" took them to #1 for the first time and they never again missed the Top 40 with any of their singles through the rest of the 1970s. Not even their Christmas song.

The Spinners - "Love Don't Love Nobody (Part 1)" The Spinners - The Very Best of Spinners - Love Don't Love Nobody, Pt. 1

Ironically, one of the acts that most exemplified the Philly Sound in the 1970s was from Detroit (the name "spinners" is an homage to the car-making city they called home). Despite some hits for Motown, they weren't given a lot of attention by the label. Signing with Atlantic, they came under the direction of producer Thom Bell, who helped them become one of the best vocal groups of the 1970s. They finally hit the coveted #1 position with "Then Came You," a collaboration with Dionne Warwick. "Love Don't Love Nobody" was the follow-up.

Done in The Spinners' trademark harmonic style, the song seems different from other hits like "Could it Be I'm Falling in Love" or "I'll Be Around." It was slower, with a spoken part and a string section that didn't "soar" like they did behind other hits. That's not to say it isn't a good song; in fact, it's worth a few listens. It's just a different sound, especially when it appears with a song like "Mighty Love" that certainly matches the tempo of the group's best-known hits.

Bobby Vinton - "My Melody of Love" Bobby Vinton - Bobby Vinton's Greatest Hits - My Melody of Love

In 1974, the man who enjoyed a great deal of success before The Beatles changed the face of popular music was poised to make a comeback. Although Bobby Vinton never really went away, the hits had tailed off since the days of "Roses are Red" and "Blue Velvet." By 1972, his longtime label Epic had dropped him as an artist. According to legend, Vinton recorded "My Melody of Love" with $50,000 of his own money and had several labels reject the song as "corny" before ABC released it. It went to #3.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about "My Melody of Love" is the fact that there are lyrics sung in Polish (which happens to be Vinton's heritage). However, for the benefit of those who don't understand Polish, he also translates the words: moja droga, ya cie kocham, means that I love you so (although according to Wikipedia, it actually means "my dear, I love you" but that may have been harder to rhyme).

Gino Vannelli - "People Gotta Move" Gino Vannelli - Gino Vannelli: The Best - People Gotta Move

Before later singles "I Just Gotta Stop" and "Living Inside Myself" focused listeners' attention to his strong vocal abilities, this was a decent debut single for the Montreal native. When it was released, "People Gotta Move" featured a synthesizer at a time where few singles used one. Although the music was not anywhere near the work that would appear later in the decade by musicians such as Giorgio Moroder (whose instrumentation on Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" is still seen as innovative), the sound was visionary even if it wasn't groundbreaking.

Garfunkel - "Second Avenue" Art Garfunkel - Garfunkel - Second Avenue

"Second Avenue" was an interesting tune if only because it wasn't as readily available as other hits. Although most music fans knew his name, Art Garfunkel (or his record company) decided to list only his last name on this single. Then, his record company didn't bother putting the song on any of the singer's American LPs until 1990. Done in Garfunkel's distinctive style, the tune made its way into the lower reaches of the Top 40 before peaking at #34. It might have gotten a little higher; read the info for the next single for more about that.

Tim Moore - "Second Avenue" (Not available as an MP3)

Yes, this is the same song as Art Garfunkel's. Tim Moore was the writer and had recorded the song first; however, the distributor of his LP went bankrupt and the resulting activity saw the two records released at the same time. Charting together, the competing versions killed any chance of either becoming a decent hit. While Garfunkel saw his take on "Second Avenue" just make its way into the Top 40, Moore's version stalled at #58.

Playing both versions together, it's interesting to hear the subtle differences between them. Moore's version comes off as more heartfelt and Garfunkel's has a better vocal.

The Hudson Brothers - "So You Are a Star" (Not available as an MP3)

Here's a song that sounds like solo material from both Paul McCartney and John Lennon. The opening verse could easily be mistaken for a Wings tune, and the voice heard in the chorus sounds a lot like Lennon's. Such was the effect The Beatles had on the music acts that follwed them.

However, The Hudson Brothers were a group out of Oregon who had a replacement TV series -- a variety show -- during the Summer of '74 and followed it up with a Saturday-morning show about the same time as "So You Are a Star" was being released as a single. Perhaps helped by their TV exposure, "So You Are a Star" reached #21. Although the song isn't available in a digital format, it can be picked up cheap as part of Rhino Record's Have a Nice Day series (it's on volume 14).

Bachman-Turner Overdrive - "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" Bachman-Turner Overdrive - Not Fragile - You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet b/w "Free Wheelin'" Bachman-Turner Overdrive - Not Fragile - Free Wheelin'

There's a legend stating that when Randy Bachman recorded "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" he stuttered in the chorus during an early take as a way of poking fun at his brother. However, the "straight" way of singing it didn't work and the stutter was left in. That was one of the hooks that caught on with radio listeners, and the song became BTO's only #1 hit. It's also one of the band's most-played songs even today on classic rock and oldies formats.

The stuttering was reminiscent of The Who's "My Generation," even if it wasn't intended to be. However, the guitar riffs that punctuate the chorus are very similar (but not exact) to the ones Pete Townsend used in the "teenage wasteland" bit of "Baba O'Reilly."

The B-side was "Free Wheelin'," which was an instrumental jam session.

Sam Neely - "You Can Have Her" (Not Available as MP3)

Sam Neely only enjoyed a few hits. In fact, one of those (his last) was mentioned in the list a few weeks ago. This was his second and last Top 40 hit, peaking at #34. Neely starts off "You Can Have Her" as a country-ish tune but the chorus sounds like a church chorus. The premise of the song is that his woman is getting ready to leave him...and he tells her prospective new suitor he can take her. If you like a song with a good sense of humor, this one is worth seeking out.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This Week's Review: September 11, 1971

There were 16 debuts on the Billboard Hot 100 (although one was a re-entry) this week. With such an infusion of new blood into a countdown, one would expect a lot of high-charting singles, but it wasn't the case here; only four of the singles made the Top 40 and only one reached the Top 10. In fact, nearly half of these songs never made it out of the 80s or 90s before they fell off the survey. Two of the new songs were unusual because their singers had died before the records charted.

The Raiders - "Birds of a Feather" Paul Revere & The Raiders - The Legend of Paul Revere - Birds of a Feather

This was the follow-up single to "Indian Reservation," one of the biggest hits of Summer '71. While Paul Revere & the Raiders had been a radio presence (some say they were incredibly underrated as a band) during the 1960s, by 1970 they seemed a little out of place with the long name and Revolutionary War uniforms. Additionally, a band that comically tore up an old piano onstage during their finale and crafted radio-friendly pop tunes was being overshadowed by other groups who expressed their ideas in more serious territory and over the two sides of an LP. Therefore, the group's name was shortened to The Raiders.

At the same time, lead singer Mark Lindsay had been enjoying some success as a solo artist. In a sense, "Birds of a Feather" sounds more like Lindsay's solo stuff (including another "bird" song, "Silver Bird") than any of the group's better-known 1960s hits. The song would peak at #23, and the Raiders never made the Top 40 again.

The Main Ingredient - "Black Seeds Keep On Growing" The Main Ingredient - Everybody Plays the Fool: The Best of the Main Ingredient - Black Seeds Keep On Growing

This song, a "Black Pride" anthem, was bittersweet for The Main Ingredient. Not only did it peak at #97 and fall off the charts after only three weeks, its singer Don McPherson had died of leukemia just two months earlier. He was 29. His replacement was Cuba Gooding (yes, the actor's father), who enjoyed a great deal of success with the band beginning with "Everybody Plays the Fool" the next year.

Although "Black Seeds" has been largely forgotten, it deserves a fresh listen despite the fact that the topic may seem dated. The lyrics and music both evoke the socially-aware songs being released in the same era by The Temptations.

Funkadelic - "Can You Get to That" Funkadelic - Maggot Brain - Can You Get to That

Funkadelic is well-known for its part as one of the cogs in George Clinton's "P-Funk" machine. Clinton was so talented and funk was so fertile in the 1970s, he was able to run two successful acts in the genre and both would be groundbreaking. Yet for all the accolades given to the group for its funk prowess, "Can You Get to That" is an interesting choice for a single. It wasn't able to make a big dent on the charts, though; it peaked at #93 and was gone after three weeks.

The song was one of the standout tracks on Funkadelic's third LP Maggot Brain. It begins with an acoustic guitar (not something one would expect to hear on a funk song) and sounds a lot like a gospel song with its call-and-response chorus and lyrics that ask about striving to a higher purpose. A bass vocal similar to the one Larry Graham was contributing to Sly & the Family Stone at that time also stands out on the track. Although it isn't all that similar to the harder funk that casual fans expect from the group, "Can You Get to That" is still a treat.

By the way...if you've never hear it, check out the track "Maggot Brian." It's an instrumental that begins the LP (and is the track just before "Can You Get to That") and has one of the greatest electric guitar solos -- by Eddie Hazel -- ever grooved on vinyl. Again, it's not entirely "funk" in the sense that funk has evolved a lot since 1971 but it's something that might just make you a fan of the group and its sound if you've never considered listening to it before.

Janis Joplin - "Get it While You Can" Janis Joplin - Pearl - Get It While You Can

A lot of ink has been used to explain the impact and importance of Janis Joplin's LP Pearl. She died before it was finished (the song "Buried Alive in the Blues" is an instrumental because she died before she could lay down her vocals) and the LP is one of those cases where listeners are left to wonder what she could have accomplished had she lived to record at least another record.

"Get it While You Can" was the final song from that posthumous LP (though a CD re-issue nearly 30 years later added four live tracks at the end). Like much of Pearl, it featured Joplin's vocal rasp without the heavy music that sometimes tried to overwhelm her during her days with Big Brother & the Holding Company. It was the third and final single from the album but didn't fare well on the charts. Although it peaked at #78, it was only listed for two weeks.

B.B. King - "Ghetto Woman" B.B. King - In London - Ghetto Woman

This is about what can be expected from a B.B. King song. The intro features a solo from King's beloved guitar Lucille that is similar to the great bridge of "The Thrill is Gone," the lyrics tell the familiar blues story about the long-suffering woman waiting on her no-good man to get home from cattin' around.

The song was taken from B.B. King in London, one of two live LPs he charted that year.

Chase - "Handbags and Gladrags"

This song was the follow-up to the effusive hit "Get it On." Although it also features horns that recall the earlier hit, "Handbags and Gladrags" didn't have the same success. It only reached #84 and was all but forgotten a few months later when Rod Stewart -- who had recorded it in 1970 -- hit with his own version of the song.

Sadly, group leader Bill Chase and three other members of the band died in a plane crash on August 9, 1974. That was the end of the group.

Chee Chee & Peppy - "I Know I'm in Love"

Although this single was listed as a new entry, it was making its second run on the charts after peaking at #49 during the summer. Unfortunately, its second wind wasn't as good as the first: the song only made it to #85 and no other singles from Chee Chee & Peppy ever charted.

The song sounds like an imitation of The Jackson 5. One line of the song ("just as long as one and one is two") can't help but point out an influence from the song "ABC." There isn't a lot of info on Chee Chee & Peppy to be found, but it's obvious by listening that they were very young in 1971.

The Four Tops - "MacArthur Park (Part 2)" The Four Tops - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 11B: 1971 - MacArthur Park, Pt. 2

"MacArthur Park" is a much-maligned song. From its original incarnation by actor Richard Harris to its disco-era Donna Summer remake, critics have panned it frequently. It was also covered by country artist Waylon Jennings and Motown legends The Four Tops. As Jimmy Guterman & Owen O'Donnell wrote in their 1991 book The Worst Rock & Roll Records of All Time: "one suspects a rap version is imminent."

The Four Tops' version of the song isn't a sonic marvel but it really isn't all that bad. Broken up into two sides for the 45 release, Part 2 was the hit. The unintentionally comical bits about the cake being left in the rain and how the recipe is lost for all time aren't there, but the later part of Harris's song which is often cut from Summer's version for radio play is included.

Lighthouse - "One Fine Morning" Lighthouse - The Best of Lighthouse: Sunny Days Again - One Fine Morning

In 1971, the group Blood, Sweat & Tears' chart fortunes were heading into a downward spiral and singer David Clayton-Thomas left the band. At the same time, Lighhouse sounds like it could have been Clayton-Thomas's next project. It was a band with a big brass sound like BS&T and hailed from Clayton-Thomas's native Canada, but the big voice behind Lighthouse belonged to Bob McBride.

Helped by a great deal of radio airplay, "One Fine Morning" managed to reach #24 on the charts. It can still occasionally be heard on radio stations playing an oldies format.

The Newcomers - "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" The Newcomers - The Astors Meet the Newcomers: Sweet Soul from Memphis - Pin the Tail On the Donkey

This was the only song The Newcomers placed on the Hot 100 during the 1970s. Although they were signed to the innovative Stax label, they sound like a lot of other early 1970s soul artists on this song.

Billie Sans - "Solo"

I've never heard this song. There isn't a whole lot of info out there on who Billie Sans is, either. If anybody can point me to something, drop me an email.

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - "Some of Shelley's Blues" Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy - Some of Shelly's Blues

It's a shame that The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 1970s repertoire will be boiled down to "Mr. Bojangles" because the band deserved to have a lot more of their songs remembered. In an era where many artists were willing to explore their country, folk or bluegrass roots (The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Poco, The Eagles, etc.), NDGB was offering their own fusion of the genres. The LP that featured "Mr. Bojangles" -- Uncle Charlie and His Dog Teddy -- was released in 1970 but wouldn't get any hits until 1971. After the success of "Mr. Bojangles," other singles would be released.

"Some of Shelley's Blues" was the third single from Uncle Charlie but the first song on the LP. Written by ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith, it was a breakup song delivered as a conversation. A banjo and guitar provide the counterpoint to the lyrics. The song is worth a few listens, but listeners need to be warned that repeated listening will lead to having the song embedded in the brain for a while.

Gordon Lightfoot - "Summer Side of Life" Gordon Lightfoot - Summer Side of Life - Summer Side of Life

I was born in 1972, so I wasn't around to hear this song during its chartmaking days. Growing up, this song was one of the tunes included in Gord's Gold -- an LP that has long resided in my collection -- so it became as familiar to me as Lightfoot's other hits "If You Can Read My Mind," "Sundown" or "Carefree Highway." However, it was a #98 hit and spent all of two weeks on the Billboard chart. That was a surprise because I've heard the song more often through the years than a lot of others that charted much higher.

And yes, it does sound a lot like his other 1970s hits. But that's not an indictment of the song; it's a great song even if it doesn't rise to the level of the songs I listed above.

Anne Murray - "Talk it Over in the Morning" Anne Murray - Talk It Over In the Morning - Talk It Over In the Morning

It's interesting to see this Anne Murray song following Gordon Lightfoot: They're both from Canada, both songs were the title tracks from their newest LPs and both LPs featured "Cotton Jenny" as one of the songs. Sadly, neither song debuting on the Hot 100 this week would make the Top 40.

Anne Murray was an interesting act of the 1970s. She was marketed to both pop and country audiences even though much of her music didn't fit the country genre. She also had a sound similar to singer/songwriters like Judy Collins or Carole King even though most of her songs were written by others. Though she'd have a great deal of success later in the decade, in 1971 she was still mainly remembered by music fans for the surprise million-selling crossover hit "Snowbird." As for "Talk it Over in the Morning," it comes across as a song that Dionne Warwick could've sung during her David/Bacharach rays. Which is another head-scratcher for anybody who is told that Murray was a "country" singer.

(Full disclosure...I'm a big fan of Anne Murray. "Could I Have This Dance" was my wedding song. For what it's worth, she could sing the names from a phone book and make it sound excellent.)

The Messengers - "That's the Way a Woman is" The Messengers - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 11B: 1971 - That's the Way a Woman Is

The Messengers were one of the first white acts signed to Motown (for their Rare Earth imprint), which explains why this song really doesn't have the distinctive Motown "sound." It's passable early 1970s pop; however, once the song reached #62 and fell off the chart the band split up.

The Osmonds - "Yo-Yo" The Osmonds - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of the Osmonds - Yo-Yo

The only song in this week's slate of newcomers to push into the Top 10 wouldn't be a surprise for anybody who remembers how popular the Osmonds were in 1971. In fact, the #1 song for the week "Yo-Yo" debuted was "Go Away Little Girl," sung by group member Donny Osmond. Before long, even siblings who weren't among the five brothers in The Osmonds (Marie and Little Jimmy) were getting hit singles.

"Yo-Yo" may have been a better song than "One Bad Apple" (a #1 hit from earlier in 1971) but the "yo yo" effect made by a slide whistle comes across as gimmicky. Seen through the prism of almost 40 years, The Osmonds' bigger hits are much more easily digested than a lot of other 1970s hits. That is, once the listener gets past things like the slide whistle on "Yo-Yo" and the guitar bit in "Crazy Horses."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

This Week's Review: Sept. 6, 1975

There were 14 singles debuting in the Billboard Hot 100 this week-- okay, 13 new singles and one that was returning after falling off a few weeks before. Additionally, three of those new singles were two-sided. That may seem like a lot of chart action; however, every week of 1975 between June 14 and this week had at least 10 new debut records and two of the weeks in June also saw 14 new singles. So infusion of new music into the countdown was normal.

In all, the entire slate of new records was a decent cross section of 1970s popular music. The genres included disco, country, R&B, funk, Southern Rock, AOR, rock and even a novelty number. Let's review the new hits of the week:

Chicago - "Brand New Love Affair (Part I & II)" Chicago - Chicago VIII - Brand New Love Affair, Pts. 1 & 2

Chicago was a monster act of the 1970s. As the decade progressed, they charted on the Hot 100 28 times. That was more often than acts like The Bee Gees, Neil Diamond, John Denver, Elton John, Elvis Presley or Paul McCartney. As a performing act, only James Brown placed more singles on the chart from 1970-'79-- 37 of them -- than the group that named itself after the Windy City. Of those 28 chart records, 21 of them made it to the Top 40 (behind only Elton John and Sir Paul, who each made 24 trips into the 40). From 1970-'75, all 16 of Chicago's chart entries made the Top 40. Until "Brand New Love Affair," that is. It didn't get higher than #61.

This was one of many singles of the 1970s that was broken up into two parts. The success of long-running songs on FM radio formats and also hits like "American Pie" had created a need for record companies to fit longer pieces onto 7-inch discs. This was often accomplished by strategically "splitting" the song but eventually, some artists made longer jams that were essentially two songs spliced together so they'd be easily dissected on record. "Brand New Love Affair" was one of those songs. The first part is much slower than Chicago's major hits to that point, with no sign of the horns that made them famous behind Terry Kath's vocal. As the second part of the song kicks in, it sounds more like what fans expected in a Chicago song: the brass section shows up, Peter Cetera takes over the singing duties and the pace picks up. Despite the limitations of the 3-minute "made-for-radio" single, the composition as an LP track was flat.

The album that included the song, Chicago VIII (remember the way they used to number all their albums?) was #1 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart but was panned as a weaker imitation of Chicago VII. Of the three singles released from the LP, "Brand New Love Affair" was the only one that missed the Top 40: its followup "Harry Truman" was a moderate success and "Old Days" returned the group to the Top 10. Interestingly, many of Chicago's LPs are available on Amazon for digital download; however, Chicago VIII is not one of them.

Rusty Wier - "Don't it Make You Wanna Dance" (Not available as MP3)

Rusty Wier wasn't a bad pun; he was a Texas troubadour who was among the acts that came out of Austin (along with Jerry Jeff Walker and Michael Murphey) during the 1970s. This song was his only appearance on the Hot 100 and didn't make much of an impression there; however, it has been covered many times, most notably by Bonnie Raitt (who sang it live during a scene in the 1980 film Urban Cowboy). Although his records have become hard to find and his music isn't available in digital form, Wier is still touring today.

Sly Stone - "I Get High on You" Sly & The Family Stone - The Essential Sly & the Family Stone - I Get High on You

This song is significant for two reasons: first, it was Sly Stone's first chart appearance without his backup group The Family Stone. Second, it would be the last time he'd show up in Billboard's Hot 100. Despite a long period of groundbreaking music, years of excess and the toll of the road had left their mark and fractured the band.

Since 1968, Sly & the Family Stone were among the groups that defined funk. It's been written that Stone and James Brown originated most of the grooves that have propelled funk and hip-hop ever since. As a song, "I Get High on You" is a great funky tune which holds its own against other 1975 funk jams like "Up For the Down Stroke," "Skin Tight" or "Machine Gun." It's also worth noting that by 1975, Larry Graham -- Stone's old bass player from The Family -- was fronting Graham Central Station and pushing the limits of funk on his own. Although Sly Stone was leaving funk's center stage, his disciples would carry the flag for years to come.

Leon Haywood - "I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You" Leon Haywood - The Best of Funk Essentials: Funky Stuff - I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You

While Sly Stone may have helped lay the foundation for funk, this song had lasting power. The instrumental intro would surface again nearly 20 years later as part of the Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg composition "Nothin' But a G Thang." I'll call it a "composition" since I'm not a huge fan of rap or the lifestyle it espouses, but there's no denying the fact that the instrumental bit lifted from "I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You" was damned catchy.

The song "I Want'a Do Something Freaky to You" appeared on the radio in the same era as other suggestive hits like "Jungle Fever," "Pillow Talk" and "Let's Get it On" and along with Barry White's persona, there was a lot of sexual steam on the airwaves (those of you who missed the 1970s, take a listen to these tunes the next time your parents tell you that there wasn't anything suggestive like music today). While the music behind Haywood sets a mood, the moaning female background singers only accent exactly what "freaky" stuff he's singing about.

It's great song, no matter what era we're discussing.

Linda Ronstadt - "Heat Wave" Linda Ronstadt - Prisoner In Disguise - Heat Wave b/w "Love is a Rose" Linda Ronstadt - Prisoner In Disguise - Love Is a Rose

Using two sides of a single to satisfy two different formats is something that has been lost in today's digital age. Today, when an artist wants to have songs played on different formats (for instance, Taylor Swift or Shania Twain), the record company takes the same song and remixes it with different instrumentation. Listen to the different versions of Twain's "That Don't Impress Me Much" (or better yet, don't...and just take my word for it) and you'll hear two different songs but the exact same vocals.

In the 1970s, some artists used their single releases to maximum effect. Olivia Newton-John and Elvis Presley were among the acts using one side for rock/pop stations and another for country, and Linda Ronstadt was another. With this single, "Heat Wave" (a faithful cover of the 1960s hit by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas) was the pop song, and Neil Young-penned "Love is a Rose" was the one destined for country radio. Both peaked at #5 on their respective Billboard charts.

Dickie Goodman - "Mr. Jaws" Dickie Goodman - Dickie Goodman's All Time Novelty Hits - Mr. Jaws

Dickie Goodman made his name by inventing the "break-in" record. Taking a cue from the classic 1938 radio show War of the Worlds, Goodman made a record interspersing current hits with "reports" of a UFO landing by DJs and reporters. "The Flying Saucer" was such a hit in 1958 that Goodman continued making "break-in" records for the next 30 years. Among the topics of his novelty recordings in the 1970s were Watergate, the energy crisis, President Nixon and anything else that suited him.

In 1975, Goodman had his biggest "hit" with "Mr. Jaws." That summer, the film Jaws was breaking box-office records, so Goodman's "roving reporter" went to work asking questions of various characters from the movie. The artists involved in the "answers" were Olivia Newton-John, James Taylor, War, KC & The Sunshine Band, The Captain & Tennille, Glen Campbell, The Eagles, The Bee Gees, 10cc, Melissa Manchester and John Williams (with his main theme from the film).

The song was a smash, quickly making it all the way to #4 on the charts. Unfortunately, it dropped off the charts as quickly as it rose and was one of few Top 5 records that didn't make its year-end Top 100 list.

Pat Lundi - "Party Music" (Not available as MP3)

I've never heard this song. When I've looked for info about Pat Lundi, I find nothing, even on So...I'm moving on.

John Fogerty - "Rockin' All Over the World" John Fogerty - The Long Road Home - The Ultimate John Fogerty & Creedance Collection - Rockin' All Over the World

This an incredibly catchy tune. It's one of those songs you can listen to a few times straight without getting annoyed by it (remember the way you could set up a record player to automatically drop the needle back on a single once it was finished?). "I like it, I like it, I like it, I li-i like it" indeed.

Of course, the song sounds exactly like an amped-up Creedence Clearwater Revival. That's because Fogerty was the guiding light behind the group. While Fogerty's song may have been great for CCR fans after the group had split three years before, Fogerty's "comeback" career was short-lived. The owner of CCR's former label (and also the owner of the group's catalog) sued Fogerty for "ripping off" "plagiarizing" songs Fogerty had written in the first place. It would be another decade before John Fogerty returned with a new LP.

The Sunshine Band - "Shotgun Shuffle" KC & The Sunshine Band - KC & The Sunshine Band: 25th Anniversary Collection - Shotgun Shuffle (Single/LP Version)

Among 1975's biggest newcomers were two Miami-based producers and artists named Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch. In addition to their group KC & the Sunshine Band ("KC" came about by Casey's last name), the duo produced George McCrae's #1 smash "Rock Your Baby." As their group was hitting #1 with "Get Down Tonight" their record label decided to get some more product out for the new group's fans. As a result, an all-instrumental LP called The Sounds of Sunshine (featuring KC's "backup band") was quickly shipped.

If the album meant to capitalize on the success of "Get Down Tonight," it failed; "Shotgun Shuffle" was gone from the chart two weeks later. Undaunted, TK records issued another KC & the Sunshine Band LP and "That's the Way (I Like it)" was #1 before the end of the year.

ABBA - "S.O.S" ABBA - Gold - Greatest Hits - S.O.S.

Here's a bit of trivia for you. This is the only chart hit of the 1970s (or any other era, as far as I know) where both the artist and song title are palindromes. This wasn't exactly a debut, since S.O.S. had appeared in the Hot 100 for two weeks in August before dropping off. This time around, the single made its way to #15.

For all the worldwide success ABBA has gotten over the years, it's easily forgotten that their chart performance in the U.S. was something of a disappointment for the group. For all their #1 singles in Europe and elsewhere, they managed to only get a single week at the top of the U.S. charts ("Dancing Queen" in 1977) and only a handful of Top 10 hits.

The melody of "S.O.S." reappeared in the late 1980s when a European dance hit called "Bring Me Edelweiss" used it.

Smokey Robinson - "The Agony & the Ecstasy" Smokey Robinson - A Quiet Storm - The Agony and the Ecstasy

This slow, sensual ballad was the last of three hits from Smokey's LP A Quiet Storm. Although his star had dimmed on the pop charts since his departure from The Miracles, Robinson was still one of the major powers that shaped soul music. In fact, the album's title was soon incorporated into a new radio format of mellow R&B called quiet storm.

After peaking at #36 with this song, fans of Smokey Robinson had to wait until 1980 to see him return to the pop Top 40.

The Outlaws - "There Goes Another Love Song" The Outlaws - Outlaws - There Goes Another Love Song

Southern rock was never bigger than it was in the mid 1970s. Even groups that weren't from the South -- like The Eagles -- were using the genre to help fill out their sound. The Outlaws were a group from Tampa, Florida who tried to use Eagles-styled harmonies and a guitar attack reminiscent of The Allman Brothers Band. This song -- one that still gets heavy radio attention today -- is a fine example.

An interesting thing about "There Goes Another Love Song" that casual fans may not know: Hughie Thomasson (who sings lead on the song) was not the group's regular lead singer. In fact, he only handled lead duties on a few songs. However, because this was one of the group's most recognizable tunes, his voice is often equated with the group.

Ralph Carter - "When You're Young and in Love" (not available as MP3)

This was the same Ralph Carter who played Michael Evans on the TV show Good Times. The song was written by Van McCoy (the man who had hit big with "The Hustle" a year earlier) and had been a hit in 1967 for The Marvelettes. Although the disco-ish tune was expected to get some interest from young female fans of his show, the single only lasted three weeks on teh Hot 100 and reached #95. Ralph Carter did manage to get another disco hit with "Extra Extra" but soon went back to his acting gig.

There's a YouTube video of Ralph Carter singing this song on Soul Train. It's worth searching out.

Jessi Colter - "What's Happened to Blue Eyes" Jessi Colter - Jessi Colter Collection - What's Happened to Blue Eyes b/w "You Ain't Never Been Loved (Like I'm Gonna Love You" (Not available as MP3)

Jessi Colter was better known as the wife of Waylon Jennings (and the mother of Shooter Jennings) but in 1975 she had great success with her LP I'm Jessi Colter. "I'm Not Lisa" was a huge hit earlier in the year, but this two-sided followup faded at #57. On the country chart, it reached #5. After this single, there would be no more Jessi Colter songs in the Hot 100 but she was still hitting the country charts. In fact, in 1976, she and her husband teamed with Willie Nelson and Tompall Glaser to record Wanted! The Outlaws! A landmark album, it would be the first country LP to be awarded platinum status.