There were ten new singles debuting on Billboard's Hot 100 this week. Half would reach the Top 40, four made Top 10 and two were #1 singles. Among the stories: a sad epitaph for a man who'd just died in a plane crash, two songs that had been remade by their performers a hit by an ex-Beatle and a duet by two Motown superstars.
Todd Rundgren - "Hello it's Me"
Todd Rundgren had already recorded "Hello it's Me" when it appeared on the first LP of his former group The Nazz in 1968. The original was a slower ballad, but when Rundgren worked on his 1972 Something/Anything? LP he decided to rework the piece. Using the production chops he developed in the studio for his post-Nazz projects (both as part of the "group" Runt and his solo work), he turned the song into a radio-friendly piece that is considered to be his best song by many.
Even though "Hello it's Me" has been a radio staple for more than 35 years, it has found its way into other pop culture. For instance, the pilot episode of That 70s Show had the gang sneaking out to attend a Rundgren concert and "Hello it's Me" was the song played at the end of the show. The song eventually peaked at a respectable #5. Not bad for a song that took over a year to be a hit (or 5, if you consider its Nazz version).
Trivia: in "Hello it's Me" you'll hear female voices in the background. One of those voices belonged to Vickie Sue Robinson, who would hit the charts herself later in the 1970s with "Turn the Beat Around."
Foster Sylvers - "Hey, Little Girl" (Not available as MP3)
Here's a song I haven't heard yet. It was a remake of Dee Clark's 1959 hit and sung by one of the members of the 9-person group of brothers and sisters called The Sylvers. Foster Sylvers was enjoying the follow-up to his hit "Misdemeanor" but after peaking at #92, Foster never again reached the Top 100 chart as a solo act.
By the way...when recording the LP that contained both of his Hot 100 singles, Foster Sylvers was 11 years old.
Jim Croce - "I Got a Name"
I was 17 years old. I had just graduated from high school and was waiting for the day I was supposed to report for Army basic training. That summer, I picked up some LPs at a yard sale cheaply and one was Jim Croce's I Got a Name. I had been familiar with the title song but at that point in my life -- just as I was about to set off on my own -- the lyrics definitely resonated with me. In a way, Jim Croce was explaining with words and an acoustic guitar exactly how I was feeling.
For Jim Croce, the song was a reminder of just how short life can be. As his song was appearing on the charts, his fans were learning the sad news of his death in a plane crash on September 27th. He was 30 years old. As a title, "I Got a Name" was striking considering the fact he had passed. The song would reach #10, the LP would top out at #2 and another prophetic tune ("Time in a Bottle," from the earlier LP You Don't Mess Around With Jim) would become the third posthumous #1 single in Billboard's rock era.
While it will never be known how many more hits Jim Croce had in him, the body of work he left in his few LPs displayed a versatility and understanding that still sounds real even after many years have gone by. It's something that hit me as a 17-year old who was hoping the road I was about to travel would lead me toward a better place. "I Got a Name" is timeless in that regard.
Betty Wright - "Let Me Be Your Lovemaker"
Betty Wright is best known for "Clean Up Woman," a song she recorded at the age of 18 but was memorable because of a guitar lick played by another young prodigy, Ray Parker, Jr. With "Let Me Be Your Lovemaker," she was still looking for the next hit that would return her to the Top 40. This wouldn't be the one; it peaked at #55 and only managed five weeks on the survey. It was more subdued than her earlier hit, with more muted instrumentation in the background.
Donna Fargo - "Little Girl Gone"
Another artist trying to find her way back to earlier heights was Donna Fargo. After two big pop hits in '72-'73 ("The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." and "Funny Face"), she hadn't been able to break the pop Top 40. While she never did make it, she was still successful on the country chart throughout the 1970s, with 6 #1 hits. "Little Girl Gone" stalled at #57 on the pop side but reached #2 country. In fact, Donna Fargo was one of the few female country artists to sustain crossover success on the pop side as well as one of even fewer to write her own material.
Upon listening,"Little Girl Gone" definitely sounds like a Donna Fargo song. It has all the conventions: the instruments, the phrasing and -- most of all -- the vocals. Told from the perspective of a woman who's returned to the home where she grew up after several years away, it recalls the old adage that you really can't go back once you leave.
The Dells - "My Pretending Days Are Over"
The Dells were a well-established R&B/soul group who'd been charting fairly regularly since the 1950s. "My Pretending Days Are Over" is a decent song from that genre despite a falsetto vocal at the beginning; however, by 1973 the sound was being done better by groups like The Stylistics, The Spinners and even Gladys Knight & the Pips. The song didn't get any higher than #51 before it disappeared. Considering they never managed to get any higher on the pop chart again, it appeared The Dells' hitmaking days were over as well.
Ringo Starr - "Photograph"
With "Photograph," Ringo Starr became the third ex-Beatle to notch a #1 single. Surprisingly, the only member of the Fab Four left who hadn't scored a #1 single was John Lennon (who'd get there in '74 but not before Ringo and George had two each and Paul three). In fact, from 1970-'73 it could be argued that Ringo Starr and George Harrison were enjoying better solo careers than their more famous Beatle cohorts. However, Lennon's music was often experimental and political (which meant it was less radio-friendly) and McCartney was just beginning to gel with his new band Wings (which would propel him to a long series of hit throughout the 1970s).
"Photograph" was from the LP Ringo, which contained both his #1 singles ("You're Sixteen" was the other) and is often considered to be his finest solo LP. Additionally, it was the closest Beatle fans would get to a reunion of the group: all the ex-members contributed even though no track has all four together. George Harrison assisted with "Photograph" by co-writing the song with Starr and contributing guitar and vocals to the track.
Hank Wilson - "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms" b/w "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"
Despite the name printed on 45 copies of this single and an LP titled Hank Wilson's Back, there was no singer named Hank Wilson. The alter ego of singer Leon Russell (pictured on his LP with his back turned), Wilson was a country singer whose name was meant to evoke Hank Williams. The entire LP consisted of covers of 1950s and early '60s country music that Russell listened to while growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Williams was the writer of one of the songs on this two-sided single.
While the songs were solidly in the country vernacular, Russell did them in his own style. The result was a reverent, respectful take on the music of his youth. Between the songs of Hank Williams, bluegrass, honk-tonk, trucker songs and Americana, Russell's LP was one of the few instances where popular music helped bridge the generation gap and helped introduce country music to an audience that may not have ever considered listening to it.
Even though the Wilson project exposed Leon Russell's country roots, the singer would sometimes return to country music afterwards. He recorded three more albums as Hank Wilson over the decades and hit #1 on the country charts in 1979 with Willie Nelson when they remade "Heartbreak Hotel."
The Carpenters - "Top of the World"
"Top of the World" had been originally recorded for The Carpenters' LP A Song for You in 1972. Despite its popularity as an album track, a cover version sung by Lynn Anderson reached #1 on the country charts and the song never was considered for single release. In 1973, A&M Records issued a greatest hits compilation called The Singles 1969-1973 and Richard Carpenter decided "Top of the World" could be a single from the new project. Remixing the instrumental track and re-recording Karen Carpenter's vocal, the "new" version was issued to radio.
The song was a huge hit. It would become The Carpenters' second #1 single, after a string of near-misses that included five songs that reached #2 and two more that stalled at #3 since their first #1" (They Long to Be) Close to You." The greatest hits compilation would also reach #1 on the LP chart -- the only LP they'd ride to the top of that chart -- and became one of the biggest selling albums of the 1970s.
Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye - "You're a Special Part of Me"
In 1973, Motown Records was a much different place than it was 5 years before. They had left Detroit for Los Angeles, their hitmaking machine no longer resembled a highly efficient assembly line, some of their stars had left the label and others had stopped hitting. Two of their biggest stars at the time were Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye and even those two were moving in different career directions: Ross had settled into her post-Supremes era as a megastar and actress, while Gaye was pushing new boundaries and broaching subjects like social issues and sexuality that weren't often found in Motown music before the 1970s.
However, the two artists had a great deal of affection for one another and recorded a duet LP called Diana & Marvin. They sounded great together, and "You're a Special Part of Me" was the first of their three singles from that album. Even though both artists would leave Motown by the early 1980s, they still had a tremendous respect for each other; after Gaye was senselessly shot to death in 1984, Ross would sing a tribute song for him called "Missing You" that was among her last big hits.