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.

1 comment:

  1. I just recently discovered this blog, and love it! Anyway..."Second Avenue" is one of the most beautiful songs ever. I don't remember hearing it until the '80s, though. While I love both versions, I do agree that the Moore version has more warmth, poignancy, and intimacy--perhaps that's the advantage of recording for "a small record company" (that was actually the name of his old label)! Artie's version was more of a "big production" (although a good one). See you later! :) Mommy L

    ReplyDelete