Remember the old Schoolhouse Rock song "Three is a Magic Number"? It applies here; Of the ten new songs that first appeared on Billboard's Hot 100 this week, only three made it into the Top 40. All three were Top 10 hits, and all peaked at...Number 3!
Bread - "Baby, I'm-a Want You"
Bread is one of those those 1970s acts that fans either enjoy or loathe. Despite their well-crafted studio work, their top-notch musicianship and solid pop- and country-influenced writing, there are a lot of people who see the group as a product of the huge "middle of the road" sound truck (with Chicago, The Carpenters and others taking turns driving) that rolled over a lot of late 1960s groups that were experimental and progressive. Their penchant for soft, heart-felt love tunes didn't really endear the band to music fans who were more enamored of blues-based rockers.
This tune, which reached #3, is familiar as one of Bread's best-known hits. While many make fun of the title and its poor grammar, it's managed to find a niche on oldies radio, adult contemporary and also as a staple of "elevator music." It's inoffensive and blends well into the background, which is probably the way it was intended to be. That's probably why it's called "middle of the road."
Jimi Hendrix - "Dolly Dagger"
Jimi Hendrix was considered to be a musical genius. His death on September 18, 1970 may have stopped him from creating any new songs but it didn't end his career. Though he only issued a few LPs during his lifetime, he had recorded a lot of stuff that hadn't made it onto those albums and much of it was placed onto a series of posthumous records. The second, called Rainbow Bridge, appeared in 1971. Among the standout tunes was "Dolly Dagger," which was released as a single but only reached #74. That said, many fans don't place a great deal of importance on peak hits of chart singles and in Hendrix's case they're right: despite all his influence and his legend, he only charted one Top 40 hit ("All Along the Watchtower" in 1968).
"Dolly Dagger" is a lot more accessible than much of Hendrix's late-period (that is, after the breakup of The Jimi Hendrix Experience). It has a great guitar line and less of the bluesy groove and experimentation that is found in much of Hendrix's later work.
The Bee Gees - "Don't Want to Live Inside Myself"
Today, fans know that The Bee Gees were the most successful act of the 1970s. With nine #1 singles, multiplatinum success and their picture on the top-selling LP of the 1970s, it's easy to forget that most of that success began with 1975's Main Course LP and the single "Jive Talkin'." From 1970-'74, the brothers Gibb were still trying to repeat the success of the late 1960s.
When their Trafalgar LP came out in 1971, they were still trying to find a sound that would lead to better sales. The first single was "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?" and became the group's first #1 hit. However, beginning with the Robin Gibb-sung "Don't Want to Live Inside Myself," they would wait another four years and a move to Miami before their next Top 10 record and the burgeoning disco movement, which helped propel their phenomenal success for the rest of the 1970s.
Traffic - "Gimme Some Lovin' Part 1"
Traffic was between contracts. After success with John Barleycorn Must Die, they had recorded The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys and were convinced it was a hit. However, their old contract (which paid them less) was still in effect for one more LP. Rather than letting their new LP be burdened by an old arrangement, the group toured and recorded songs for a live LP to fill out their contractual obligation. That LP was Welcome to the Canteen, which is considered a Traffic album even though the cover lists the individual band members instead.
The LP closed with a 9-minute rendition of "Gimme Some Lovin'," a song Traffic vocalist Steve Winwood had popularized during the 1960s as a member of The Spencer Davis Group. For the 45, the song was cut into two parts. Considering the fact that Traffic was making their "live" record to get out of a contract, the sound quality is lacking -- the vocals are nearly drowned out by instruments -- but the music is exceptional.
The Chi-Lites - "Have You Seen Her"
Though "Oh Girl" was the group's only #1 pop hit, "Have You Seen Her" may have been their best tune. Both songs are excellent, but in my mind, "Have You Seen Her" gets an edge because of its story. With doo-wop vocals behind him, the song's narrator tells about how he spends days sitting around and keeping himself occupied after his love walked out on him. Painting a picture of sitting on a park bench telling jokes to neighborhood kids, he's really convincing himself that his lady is coming back to him and he simply needs to wait for her return. Rather than resorting to the gut-wrenching, big-throated vocals often employed by R&B singers who are dealing with lost love and broken hearts, singer Eugene Record employs a matter-of fact, low-key delivery but the sadness is still there. It's one of those songs that doesn't grow old even after almost 40 years.
Glen Campbell & Anne Murray - "I Say a Little Prayer/By the Time I Get to Phoenix"
Glen Campbell and Anne Murray were both artists who successfully crossed over between country and pop. Doing an LP together, they recordd a duet medley of the Bacharach-David tune "I Say a Little Prayer" (made popular by Dionne Warwick) and Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (which Campbell himself enjoyed as a smash hit). However, the medley was blended: Murray sang "I Say a Little Prayer" while Campbell's handled his lines from "Phoenix" at the same time. Not a big hit (#81, though it did reach #40 on the country chart) but an interesting concept.
Rose-Colored Glass - "If it's Alright With You" (Not Available as MP3)
Rose-Colored Glass was a group produced by the man who popularized the comic "break-in" record, Dickie Goodman. However, they were a serious group. I've never heard "If it's Alright With You" so I'll move on to the next song...which most everybody who would be interested in 1970s music has heard at least once.
John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band - "Imagine"
A lot has been written about "Imagine." I can't say anything here that can add to what's already out there, and to call it a classic tune would be an understatement. It was certainly Lennon's best-known solo record, one that was equal to anything he wrote for The Beatles. Despite lyrics that are often considered simplistic and utopian, the song (accented by its simple piano line) is optimistic and forward-looking. Coming at a time where the Vietnam War was winding down and the dissent and violence that marked the late 1960s was running its course, the suggestion to imagine a better place for the future was refreshing.
James Brown - "My Part/Make it Funky (Part 3)"
James Brown was the most prolific singles artist of the 1970s. With 38 songs making the Hot 100, he had more than any other act (Chicago, the act in second place, had only 27). What's even more amazing is that the vast majority of those songs hit during the first half of the decade. Had Brown's career on the pop charts not declined after 1975, there's no telling how many hits the man could have had. Despite the large number of Hot 100 hits, Brown's name isn't often mentioned among the top hitmakers of the 1970s because only 19 of those songs made the Top 40 and none reached the Top 10. However, as an influence, his legend is undisputed.
"My Part/Make it Funky (Part 3)" was one of nine Hot 100 singles the Godfather of Soul charted in 1971. It's undeniably James Brown, with the signature sound, Brown's vocal interaction with the music, Fred Wesley's horns and Bobby Byrd interjecting. There's even a tip of Brown's hat to B.B. King, which is a great compliment indeed.
Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway - "You've Lost That Loving Feeling"
"You've Lost That Loving Feeling" was no stranger to the charts (it had been a #1 hit for The Righteous Brothers in 1965). For Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, however, fans were just getting to know them. As "Loving Feeling" was spending its short six-week stay on the Hot 100, Flack was a relative unknown and Hathaway was best known for an earlier hit called "The Ghetto." As a low-key version of a well-known song, the duo didn't pick up a lot of fans with this single, but that was about to change.
The duo's follow-up "Where is the Love" was a major hit in 1972 and Flack ran off a series of successful singles after that. Hathaway's chart fortunes were different; he wasn't racking up the hits on his own and was fighting a personal battle with depression. After scoring again with another big duet in 1978 called "The Closer I Get to You" Hathaway lost his battle in 1979 when he hell from his hotel apartment in New York City. The death was ruled a suicide and silenced the voice of a young artist who had been poised to become a bright star.