Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Picks for the Greatest Singles of the 1970s -- Part 4

A few years ago, I was talking with some friends and the subject came up about the best pop songs. Looking past what was popular or famous, what song sounded great even after years of listening?

When my turn came to chime in, I was ready with an answer: "Baby Come Back" by Player. I remember hearing it on the radio back when it was a hit; I liked it then and I love it now. Even if a current commercial series might make me think of a mop when I hear it...

It may have been inevitable for Player to come up with one great hit. As a band of L.A. studio musicians, they were in an ideal place to hone their craft at a time when the music business was reaching a commercial peak. They were signed to RSO records at precisely the same time as the label was mining platinum with The Bee Gees and Andy Gibb, not to mention the phenomenal success of the Saturday Night Fever and Grease soundtracks. Not only that, but Player released a single that sounded a lot like a Hall & Oates single just as that duo was getting hot. The stars were perfectly aligned for them in late 1977, and "Baby Come Back was at #1 on Billboard's chart early in 1978.

Speaking of RSO records, they set an amazing record while "Baby Come Back" was charting: Between the week that Debbie Boone's "You Light Up My Life" fell out of the top slot in December '77 and late May '78 when Wings took "With a Little Luck" to #1, an RSO single held down the pole position every week. Six singles -- four from Saturday Night Fever -- over 21 weeks is a legendary achievement. For a list of every #1 single of the 1970s, check out my site.

"Baby Come Back" is a finely crafted pop tune. Opening with a bass and drum intro that sets up a great reverbreated guitar line, the song leads up to a familiar pop topic: boy loses girl (by being "wrong") and misses her greatly. In fact, no matter how much he tries to get over her or puts up a front, she's still emblazoned in his mind. Yes, the same theme has been a thread running through countless pop songs from Elvis to 1990s Boy Bands, but Player did it in a way that made you sing along.

I've mentioned my 10-year old daughter in previous posts. Today, we went out for lunch and as we drove, "Baby Come Back" began to play on the radio. Even though she was born more than 20 years after it was a hit, Melissa knew what song was playing even before the first note from the guitar. She made me proud.

Here's a couple of ways to hear it for yourself:

First, here's a link to an MP3 of the tune on Amazon. This one is the full LP version, as opposed to the 45 that cuts out both the extended intro and the guitar solo that ends it. Even if you don't want to spend 99 cents to get the full song, there's a 30 second snippet that lets you hear the tune from when the singer begins.

If iTunes is more of your thing...Here's a link for you: Player - The Best of Player - Baby Come Back - Baby Come Back

Their fame may have been short-lived, but Player is worth a listen. Even though they channeled Hall & Oates for "Baby Come Back" and Steely Dan on their follow-up "This Time I'm in it For Love" they were a great-sounding group on their own. Here's a link to a 2-for-1 CD that features both of Player's 1970s LPs. There may be a missing picture on the link here, but the pictures are seen if you click it (I have no idea why that happens on so many of Amazon's products). But the group is worth listening to if you like to get past the stuff that Top 40 radio served up:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Top 40 LP Info is Now Online

It took about a month an a half to put together, but the list of all Top 40 LPs from 1970-'79 has been added to the website, with links to acquire them on Amazon and/or iTunes (If available) and a link back to the list of each artist's hit singles from the decade (again, when applicable). Now that I've finished that phase of the web project, I can get back to work on adding iTunes/Amazon links to the section of the site that lists hit 45s.

Wanna see what's there? Check out My 1970s Hits Site. There are links now to 45s and LPs, by artist. Just click a letter in the menu and scroll down to your favorite artist.

However, before I go, I'd like to comment on some things I realized during the process:

1. Motown has an amazing history of releasing high-quality music. Many of its artists (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross/The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Jackson 5, Rick James, The Commodores, etc.) are among the all-time legends of pop music. With a back catalog like Motown's, you'd think the 1970s LPs would be readily available. But you'd be wrong. The 1970s catalog is often hit-and-miss -- Stevie Wonder's is complete except for a 1978 compilation, but The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross are spotty and The Jackson 5 aren't available except for 2-for-1 discs. I understand how stuff like supply and demand can affect a record company's desire to print up CDs that might sit in a warehouse for years, but putting them up on iTunes or another downloadable format will eliminate the supply problems.

2. Many of the LPs of the 1970s were limited by technology which only allowed a certain number of songs to fit on two sides. As CDs became the norm, more songs were able to fit on discs and when it came time to release "back catalog" issues, some companies were able to fit two albums on 1 CD. Some companies and artists went further and either remastered the CD to take advantage of improved CD sound quality or even adding new tracks, alternate versions and previously-unreleased material. While some fans feel these "improvements" detract from the spirit of their original recordings...I feel more is better, especially if I'm paying roughly the same for the extra stuff.

3. All things considered...buying from Amazon is a great deal. Not counting the out-of-print CDs that can be more expensive, the vast majority of recordings linked on my site can be had for less than $10 (and many of the used discs go for under $3). Yes, the news likes to tout the fact that the economy is in the tank -- and those of us who lived through the 1970s know a bad economy isn't the end of the world -- but a tremendous music library can be built for less than the cost of going to the movies and won't be over in two hours. Amazon orders over $25 can qualify for free shipping, which maximizes a purchase even more.

4. While I'm on the subject of hard-to-find discontinued CDs...if you click on the Amazon link, several of those albums are available through Amazon as MP3s, can be picked up for under $10 and downloaded immediately to your computer, which makes it easier to bide your time until somebody sells his or her used copy for a lot less.

5. While researching the materials used to build my site, I sometimes get saddened to realize that many of the artists who made music in the 1970s are no longer with us (and in 2008 we lost Paul Davis, Jerry Reed, Isaac Hayes and Richard Wright of Pink Floyd, among others). Considering that even the youngest artists of the 1970s are nearing 50 (Leif Garrett is 47, Marie Osmond turns 50 this year, Michael Jackson is 50, Donny Osmond is 51; for heaven's sake, Olivia Newton-John and Journey's Steve Perry are now 60!), the list of deceased artists is only going to get longer. For me, even though they may have left this plane of existence, their spirits will always remain whenever their music fills the air.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's January 20th. That means it's time to once again change things up in Washington, and this time the event is considered "historic" because of the man being sworn into office. Since this is not a political blog and I don't wish to turn it into one, I'll limit my statements on Barack Obama to simply say I wish him the best of luck for the next four years. Being the President of the United States can be a thankless task, especially in the current polarized political climate.

That said, his election is something very few of us who grew up in the 1970s could have imagined happening this soon. For those who remember the Civil Rights movement and the events that led us right into the 1970s -- the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, race riots, high tensions from a draft that was taking disadvantaged young men from their homes and sending them to die for a country they didn't always feel appreciated their sacrifices -- the way they see race relations is still reflected by those events. The social climate led to some memorable songs in the 1970s: "What's Going On," "Why Can't We Live Together," "Brother Louie"because the events were still so fresh in the minds of the public.

But something happened along the way. Americans who understood how the "old ways" were wrong raised their children to be more accepting of others. As a child of the 1970s, I remember the racial harmony of Sesame Street and The Electric Company. My parents always stressed the point that despite our differences, everybody in America should be given an equal opportunity to follow their dreams regardless of race, religion or creed. Furthermore, I was a military brat all through the 1970s so the neighborhoods I lived in were always of mixed ethnicities and backgrounds. As I grew up, these beliefs were instilled in me.

Fast forward a few decades. Americans are watching a man who has a mixed ethnicity take the office of President. For those of us who heard "In America, anybody can grow up to be President," today is a reminder that it's an attainable dream for those who are willing to work towards that dream. Much of the reason he won the election is because of the younger Americans who grew up being taught the same lessons as I was. Polls and studies have shown that Americans under the age of 40 don't tend to see racial issues as much of a problem compared to those old enough to remember the strife of the 1960s. It there still a problem? Likely, but the fact that the newest generations are moving away from old beliefs shows that the winds of change are often gradual.

Plus, the fact that we're having the first President who was a child in the 1970s doesn't hurt, either.

While I'm hopeful as always that the future will be bright...I just hope that the words of another great 1970s song (by The Who) aren't prophetic: Meet the new boss...same as the old boss.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dr. Funk Picks His 1970s Favorites, Part 3

Two horny teens.

It's the main topic of a whole lot of rock 'n' roll songs, going back as far as the genre itself. In fact, the term "rock & roll" was regarded as slang for the same thing as knockin' boots, gettin' the freak on or whatever else term was in vogue for its day. But the fact remains -- despite the revisionists who try to convince us that the 1950s were somehow more pastoral or innocent -- there has been an undercurrent of sex running through the music for well over 50 years.

The lyrics are certainly a lot more "in your face" now than they were in past decades, but for those trying to say that there wasn't a lot of sexual subject matter in the past must not have been paying attention. Any fan of 1970s music only has to pull out the catalogs of Barry White, Al Green or Marvin Gaye to poke holes in that argument. Neither "Let's Get it On," "Pillow Talk" nor "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy"(which describes a one-night stand with a woman he had just met) left much to the imagination. Even the easy-listening stuff was searching for some lovin': "Afternoon Delight" anyone? When Toni Tennille sang "You Never Done it Like That," I'm guessing she wasn't complimenting her Captain on his handling of a keyboard. Then there's Meat Loaf's epic "Paradise By the Dashboard Light"which makes no bones about what's going on.

Despite all of these songs, there was another one about teens feeling their hormonal pressures that gets overlooked by 1970s music afficianados: "I Wanna Be With You" by The Raspberries.

When picking great Raspberries songs, "I Wanna Be With You" isn't usually the first one mentioned: "serious" music critics tend to gravitate toward "Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)" and the record-buying public made "Go All the Way" a much bigger hit for the group. Furthermore, "I Wanna Be With You" was likely seen as a second helping of "Go All the Way" when the single was shipped in the Fall of '72 as a follow-up to the earlier hit.

The two songs are similar. Played back-to-back, "Go All the Way" is the more obvious pop tune, with a catchy melody, Roy Orbison-inspired phrasing and guitar hook. However, "I Wanna Be With You" is faster, more impatient, more immediate, direct and aggressive -- in short, a lot like I was at 16 -- and even the guitar line conveys the urgency that only a teenager can come up with in his efforts to get his girlfriend to let him get past second base.

At just over three minutes, it's a perfect length for a pop tune. It's long enough to satisfy but still leave you wanting more after it was finished. Kind of like the song's subject was for me when I was a lot younger; sadly, about three minutes was usually all I needed then.

Want to hear it? The Amazon link below has a 30-second snippet of the song.

If you're more of an iTunes type, here's a link to the song there: The Raspberries - Greatest - I Wanna Be With You

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dr. Funk Picks His Favorite 1970s songs - Part 2

I have a daughter. She's 10 years old, and if you know any kids around her age, you're undoubtedly familiar with Hannah Montana. On a couple episodes of the show, Dolly Parton showed up as Hannah's godmother, "Aunt Dolly."

So, while going through my CD collection and seeing the Dolly Parton CDs, I looked over to my daughter and asked her: "Hey, what do you know about Dolly Parton?" expecting her to say she was on the show.

Without a second's hesitation, Melissa said, "She's got big boobs."

And there you have it...from the mouth of a 10-year old.

It's a shame, because Dolly Parton was (and still is) an amazing singer. A quick listen to her 1970s catalog shows just how versatile she could be. Her 1974 original of "I Will Always Love You" is superior to Whitney Houston's smash (and even Parton's own 1982 remake of the song) because of the emotion she conveyed when she recorded it. Some of her self-penned stuff like "The Bargain Store," "Jolene" and "Coat of Many Colors" brought something that you didn't always expect in the realm of Country music. It was, in a way, a lot like the introspection that was celebrated among many of the singer-songwriters that were scoring big on the Pop charts at the same time. Eventually, Dolly was hitting the Pop Top 40 as well.

The song that took her over the top was the next song in my "Greatest Hits of the 1970s" thread: "Here You Come Again." It was so much different from her earlier records, from its bright piano intro to its sleek production, steel guitar notwithstanding. It was her first major hit (solo, that is) that she hadn't written herself -- Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil put it to paper and B.J. Thomas recorded it earlier -- but she made the song her own when she sung it.

It was also one of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio. Even as a kid who hadn't yet developed a fine tase for good music, the guitar solo is clear to this day: I can picture myself sitting in the back seat of my parents' old Mazda and hearing it come wafting from the speakers.

Speaking of parents, shortly after Dolly was sitting at #1 dueting with Kenny Rogers on "Islands in the Stream," I remember Mom mentioning how sad it was that Dolly Parton is better remembered for her figure than for her angelic voice. She mentioned how pretty her earlier tunes had been and mentioned one specifically: "Coat of Many Colors." So, one day I found some old Dolly LPs sitting around and listened on our old stereo system...and ended up playing "Here You Come Again" several times and falling in love with it again.

So, when I had my CDs out with my daughter and she told me what she knew about Dolly Parton, we listened. And she really liked some of what she heard. If you'd like to hear "Here You Come Again" for yourself, here's a like to the song on iTunes: Dolly Parton - The Essential Dolly Parton, Vol. 2 - Here You Come Again

Or for a great primer on Dolly Parton's career, here's a collection that features 37 hits over 2 discs and lets you hear what I found so special:

Monday, January 12, 2009

What's Happening?!!

First of all, Happy New Year! Now that it's 2009, that means it's now 30 years since 1979 and nearly 40 since 1970. Time marches on, and we are powerless to stop it. No matter, though; thanks to technology, we can still go back and revisit the things that made us happy all those years ago.

Lately, I've been busy adding Top 40 LP info to the website (and it's nearly done, with links and all!), feel free to check out the site and see what's been added. Once I've finished that, I'll go back to the arduous process of updating the lists of singles and get them formatted. When finished, I hope to be able to offer a great place on the web for1970s music buffs to find and add music for their collections.

I've also added Wolfgang's Vault as a sponsor. If you haven't checked out their site, they offer a bunch of concerts from several eras, but a bunch of them are 1970s vintage. On their home page now, they have links to 1970s sets from the Stones, Genesis, ELO, the Grateful Dead, Roxy Music, Mountain, Springsteen, the Allman Brothers and Van Morrison. There are more than 2000 concerts in all, and they're free! In addition to the cool free concerts, they have apparel, poster art and other stuff you might feel like buying. Some of the concerts can be downloaded to your PC for $9.98 (though they are still free to stream).

To check it out, simply click the banner ad below and click the "Concert Vault" button. You'll need to register but it's worth the extra 2 minutes.

Banner banner

Another idea for future site growth is to add a 1970s "Store" for collectors looking for 1970s movies, even things like band T-shirts or vinyl LPs/8-tracks. Another item on the drawing board is a 1970s "Bookshelf" where a wide variety of topics can be at the disposal of any reader who wants to go in and check it out. As always, ideas are welcome for stuff to add. Finally, I'm also interested in putting together a podcast that would feature some of my favorite songs and a story of two behind them; however, while looking at the possibilities of licensing, getting permission, etc. I will take a little while before any type of podcast gets added to the site...if anybody has podcast experience, I'd love to get some input.

For now...back to the grind of building the site. And I'll be listening to a 1978 Hall & Oates show recorded in Pittsburgh for The King Biscuit Flower Hour. Great stuff...