Eight songs debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. While two died quick deaths on the chart, four made the Top 40 (and two came close), two made the Top 10 and one was a #1.
Betty Wright - "Baby Sitter"
This was the follow-up to Wright's big hit "Clean Up Woman," with a similar topic about the "other woman" who was ready to slide in and pounce when her back was turned. Beginning with a lullaby tune played with a guitar (repeated with a harmonica later in the song), the song told about a hot-to-trot 16-year old...which just goes to show that even in 1972, there were songs about promiscuity among teens.
The song has a great soul feel to it, much like a female version of songs Wilson Pickett was doing at the time. It was fun to listen to and better song than a fan would expect from the #46 peak it eventually earned.
National Lampoon - "Deteriorata"
You may have remembered the Top 10 hit from 1971 by Les Crane called "Desiderata." It was essentially a spoken-word recording, with Crane reciting a Max Ehrmann poem from 1927 over "inspirational" music while a gospel choir took over the choruses. Some found the song to be a product of a positive-thinking optimism brought about after some scary years in the late 1960s, while others found it to be pretentious garbage that would be a poor excuse for New Age material if it were released today. The people from National Lampoon thought it deserved a send-up.
Their parody version was called "Deteriorata" and was written by comedian Christopher Guest (of Spinal Tap fame, among other achievements). The "song" begins with Melissa Manchester singing the off-kilter take from the original: You are a fluke of the universe, you have no right to be here... The "spoken word part" not only lampoons the original but also tosses offbeat humor into the lyrics: "Know what to kiss...and when"..."For a good time, call 606-4311, ask for Ken"...and finally, "And reflect that whatever misfortune may be your lot, it could only be worse in Milwaukee."
Since hit radio is not always a humorous place despite AM jocks trying to convince us otherwise, the song was only listed for four weeks and never got higher than #91. According to Wikipedia, Les Crane preferred the National Lampoon version over his own hit recording.
The Stylistics - "I'm Stone in Love With You"
If you're a 1970s music fan, you pretty much know what you're going to get with a Stylistics record. Part of the Thom Bell-produced "Philadelphia Sound," all of their hits were ballads featuring the smooth voice of Russell Thomkins, Jr. and were sugar-coated pop confections (made specifically as ear candy to the record-buying public). There was a formula involved: a soaring falsetto over studio musicians, with lyrics that extolled a blissful relationship. Thom Bell's production technique allowed the music to accent Thompkins' vocals without either overpowering the other. Interestingly, once the band split from Bell after 1974, the balance between music and vocals was offset and their U.S. hits suddenly stopped.
There really isn't much to add to the last paragraph that will explain anything additional about "I'm Stone in Love With You." It fit the Bell/Stylistics formula and was a #10 hit. I like it, but I definitely see where others might find it to be way too "syrupy sweet" for their tastes.
Bulldog - "No" (Not available as an MP3)
From the hopeful lyrics of the Stylistics, Bulldog's "No" is an entirely different kind of song about male/female relationships. For all the nostalgia about the "anything goes" aura that was prevalent during the Sexual Revolution, "No" is a song that told the other side of the story: the song's narrator is rejected after a long night of trying to score. It spent 15 weeks on the Billboard chart -- an eternity in '72 unless the song was a huge hit -- but barely missed the Top 40. It really deserved to be a bigger hit than it was. Sadly, Bulldog (founded by two former members of The Rascals) never managed to get another 45 on the national charts again. By 1978 the band's two main members returned as part of the powerpop group Fotomaker and notched a couple more low-charting hits.
Jim Croce - "Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels)"
Last week, I mentioned how Jim Croce's music affected me when I was a kid. This week, as I was playing "Operator" while writing down the rough notes I use when I type out these reviews, my 11-year old daughter asked me about something she didn't quite understand. She asked why somebody was talking to an operator when he could've just dialed 411. And then she asked about what the line "you can keep the dime" meant. There are few things that make somebody feel older than trying to explain something to somebody who doesn't have the same frame of reference...like the UHF/VHF dials on a TV set, or a TV that didn't come with a remote control, or the spindle adapter that allowed a 45 RPM record to play on an LP player, or even a rotary dial on a telephone. At least she understood that he was at a pay phone.
The thing I love about this song is the story it tells. A man is hoping to contact his former lover after she left him for a friend of his and moved to L.A. Despite asserting he's overcome his pain and moved on with his life, it's obvious he still hasn't come to grips with what happened. At the end of the song, he hangs up the phone without having the courage to make the call. It's a bit of reality that didn't always find its way into Top 40 radio in 1972 (even if it did appear around the same time as Dr. Hook's "Sylvia's Mother," another song that played out over a telephone conversation). As I mentioned last week, it's another case where fans might feel cheated that Croce was taken so young because he had the potential to do so much more.
Considering that "Operator" has been a radio fixture for much longer than Croce's own lifespan, it might surprise fans to know the song wasn't a Top 10 hit. His second chart single, it only reached #17.
The Temptations - "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone"
Of all the songs I've reviewed here since beginning this weekly excursion, only a few havemade me pull out a personal story. Yes, I just finished relating something about Jim Croce (as I did last week); however, "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" has another significance to me. I was born on December 2, 1972, which was a Saturday. Since Saturdays are the "week ending" dates of Billboard charts, that was a day that appears on their charts. And the very day that I was born, the #1 song was "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone."
The song is memorable for its lengthy instrumental opening. Starting with the rhythm section (bass and hi-hat percussion) and soon followed by drums and then a great guitar break, the music builds and sets the song's tone for two minutes until Dennis Edwards is ready to begin singing. Motown's house band, The Funk Brothers, were laying down some grooves that were inspired by both Curtis Mayfield and Miles Davis. The lyrics about an absentee father who was also a fraud and a womanizer didn't sit well with Edwards (whose own father had passed away of "the Third of September," even though the song wasn't written for him originally). The friction between Edwards and writer/producer Norman Whitfield over the song likely helped set up the gruff, almost spiteful vocals. The LP version of the song was twelve minutes long; the single edit was just under seven minutes and still long for many pop stations at that time.
It's a classic, despite the timing.
The Guess Who - "Runnin' Back to Saskatoon"
This was one of the few live records to make the Billboard Hot 100. Taken from their LP Live at the Paramount, it was the group's lowest-charting single of the 1970s. Only reaching #96, it was gone from the survey after only three weeks.
Austin Roberts - "Something's Wrong With Me" (Not available as an MP3)
Upon first listen, this tune sounds very much like a product of its times. It has that melodramatic "sound" that was a hallmark of '70s pop, complete with the requisite "wah-wah" guitar and brass-and-strings orchestration behind him. If the voice sounds familiar, that may be because Roberts had an association with Hanna-Barbera and was heard in Saturday-morning staples Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Josie and the Pussycats when they used generic music to accompany the animated chase scenes.
The song was a respectable hit, reaching #12. Although this single was the first one to chart under Roberts' name, he was a member of the studio group Arkade, who had two minor hits in 1970-'71.