Sunday, November 29, 2009

This Week's Review -- November 28, 1970

For this week, Billboard's Hot 100 had eleven songs entering the chart, with six that would reach the Top 40 and two that almost got there. Four hits made the Top 10 and one was a #1. Among the hits: the first ex-Beatle member with a #1 hit, the most successful ex-Monkee, the first Top ten hit for one of  the decade's biggest artists, two (actually, three) Motown acts, a group that is among the most influential heavy metal legends and the biggest country song of the year.

Thanks to Google Books, many of the Billboard issues from the 1970s have been digitized and are available to read for free. Here's the issue dated November 28, 1970. The complete Hot 100 chart can be found on page 70.

Donnie Elbert - "Can't Get Over Losing You" Donnie Elbert - R&B Maverick - Can't Get Over Losing You

 Donnie Elbert debuted at #98 with this song, but he wouldn't get any higher and was off the charts after two weeks. Born in New Orleans but raised in Buffalo, Elbert had been recording since the late 1950s but hadn't gained much headway on the pop or soul charts despite possessing a tremendous voice and even playing the instruments on his recordings himself. After a few years living in England and gaining some success there, Elbert returned to the U.S. and began getting some hits.

His first chart entry of the 1970s was "Can't Get Over Losing You," a song that sounds like it was a Motown tune, evoking Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Ooh Baby Baby" in both his vocal delivery and the background strings. Despite underperforming on the Hot 100, the song would reach #26 on the soul chart.

Gladys Knight & the Pips - "If I Were Your Woman" Gladys Knight & The Pips - The Best of Gladys Knight & The Pips: Anthology - If I Were Your Woman

Gladys Knight & the Pips are probably best remembered for their 1970s tenure with Buddah records but spent many years at Motown. Despite gaining some decent hits (even charting "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" a year before Marvin Gaye's seminal version and taking it to #2 pop), neither Gladys Knight or any of the Pips are remembered as a Motown group in the same sense as The Supremes, The Temptations or The Miracles. Before leaving Motown, they managed to score a #9 pop (and #1 soul) hit with this gem.

"If I Were Your Woman" was another of the many songs that came out of Motown's production line. Written by staff writers and backed with lush orchestration by the company's phenomenal house band, the song still manages to showcase Knight's strong voice and the tight vocal harmonies of The Pips. A fluid bass line (probably by James Jamerson; incredibly, Motown wouldn't list session players on their album liner notes until 1971) also stands out on the recording. Among the group's 1970s recordings, this sometimes gets lost among their successful Buddah records but is still one of their best efforts.

B.J. Thomas - "Most of All" (Not available as MP3)

B.J. Thomas enjoyed a string of hit singles at the start of the 1970s. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" was the #1 song as the 1970s dawned and the hits kept coming through 1972. Then his label Scepter Records closed shop, causing Thomas's career to skid toward inconsistency and eventually turn him towards the country market with occasional crossover success. "Most of All" would do well, just making the Top 40 on the Hot 100 but peaking at #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

The only thing about "Most of All" is that it doesn't really stand out from Thomas's other work. It's a well-done effort but still sounds a lot like his bigger hits "I Just Can't Help Believing" and "Rock and Roll Lullaby." It's a shame, as the song could have resonated with a lot of people from its story where somebody tells his darling that he'd love to be with her but he has to keep on traveling. He's calling from the train station in St. Paul...and mentions that when the snow falls the next day he won't be there to see it because he must chase his dreams. It's a common theme in songs; musicians who do a lot of touring certainly relate, but so do a lot of people who have to travel for work.

George Harrison - "My Sweet Lord" George Harrison - All Things Must Pass (30th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered] - My Sweet Lord b/w "Isn't it a Pity" George Harrison - All Things Must Pass (30th Anniversary Edition) [Remastered] - Isn't It a Pity

Quick, what was the first song by an ex-Beatle to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100? It wasn't Paul McCartney's "Another Day," which only reached #5. John Lennon's "Instant Karma" made it to #3 and Ringo Starr's "It Don't Come Easy" stalled at #4. All of the former Beatles would eventually get multiple #1 hits but George Harrison was the first to reach the summit when "My Sweet Lord" was on top of the charts to end a year that watched the group split up.

Last week's review featured George Harrison as well; "This Song" was written after the aftermath of "My Sweet Lord" and how the writers and copyright holders of the 1963 hit "He's So Fine" felt Harrison had (perhaps subconsciously) plagiarized their song in order to make his own million-seller. Without getting into that question, it is one of many songs of its era that I could place into the subcategory "God Rock." Despite its assumed piety, the song has quite a catchy slide guitar riff by Harrison and doesn't come off as preachy. Instead, it's sung more like a mantra or prayer in front of a choir. Finally, since George was really the only member of the Beatles truly serious about the whole Indian mysticism vibe that led them the stay with the Maharishi in Rishikesh, India, there's little question as to his intentions in recording such a song.

Sadly, many stations once again dusted off "My Sweet Lord" in November 2001 when the news broke that Harrison had passed away.

Black Sabbath - "Paranoid" (Not available as MP3)

Here's a song that is much better remembered than chart positions indicate. Even though it peaked at #61, Black Sabbath has become a huge influence on rock musicians through the years. This is also a song I can't ever listen to without feeling the need to crank up the volume to loud. Tommy Iommi's guitar blast (it shouldn't be called a riff) drives the song even more than the rhythm section, which is not an easy task, and Ozzy Osbourne's vocals are both immediate and nonsensical. According to the story behind the song, Iommi developed the buzzsaw-driven guitar line and the band recorded it as quickly as they could, with Ozzy making up the words on the spot. In any case, the song is two and a half minutes of pure adrenaline.

A couple of things I'd like to bring out's worth mentioning that this song and "Iron Man" (Sabbath's only two pop hits in the 1970s) were culled from the same LP, Paranoid, but the second single wouldn't be released until 1972. It seemed Black Sabbath wanted to be primarily an album artist rather than a singles artist. Also, one of Ozzy's lines is officially "I tell you to enjoy life, I wish I could but it's too late" is frequently misheard as "I tell you to end your life." Listening to the song, it sure sounds like that's what he said, even though I've taken the effort to listen closely. But then again, I still hear "'scuse me while I kiss this guy" in "Purple Haze" even when I know better.

The Supremes & The Four Tops - "River Deep, Mountain High" The Supremes & The Four Tops - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 10: 1970 - River Deep, Mountain High

"River Deep, Mountan High" has quite a history. It was written by "Wall of Sound" guru -- and current convicted murderer -- Phil Spector along with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Intended for Ike & Tina Turner (only without Ike), the song had great expectations but flopped phenomenally when it was deemed too pop for R&B and too R&B for pop, causing Spector to walk away from the record business for a couple of years. Its flop didn't stop other artists from covering it, though: Nilsson, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Deep Purple and Bob Seger were among the artists who added the song to their records, but the most successful version was recorded by the post-Diana Ross Supremes and The Four Tops as a "duet" even though there were seven people involved. As one of several singles pairing the two groups, the song would hit #14 behind their star power and the sound of Motown's superb house band.

Lynn Anderson - "Rose Garden" Lynn Anderson - 16 Biggest Hits - Rose Garden

This song, written by Joe South, was a huge crossover hit. Reaching #3 on the Hot 100, it would go on to be the biggest country hit for the year 1970. With a great instrumental backing provided by Nashville session musicians, the song is propelled by a plucked guitar line that sounds almost like raindrops, surging strings and a solid bass line. "Rose Garden" was originally included on Joe South's Introspect LP and would be covered by Dobie Gray, Glen Campbell and Dottie West (and later by Martina McBride); however, Lynn Anderson's sunny take on the song is the best known.

Despite the upbeat sound behind the song, a quick reading of the lyrics paint a slightly different picture. In the words, there's an explanation that life is not always going to be sweet. There are definitely going to be some hard times, which will give plenty of reasons to enjoy the good times. It's a lyric that was written from a male perspective ("I could promise you things like big diamond rings"...) and seems to be directed at a young prospective bride, but oddly a female take gives the song a different twist. The topic is a frequent one in country music -- Charley Pride's "All I Have to Offer You (Is Me)" is a prime example -- which is solidly directed at working-class listeners.

Michael Nesmith & the First National Band - "Silver Moon" Michael Nesmith - Loose Salute - Silver Moon

After the Monkees broke up at the dawn of the 1970s, Mike Nesmith would be the most successful solo member of the group. Aside from the group's final hit "Oh My My" which spent two weeks on the Hot 100, only two of the group's members would return to the pop charts. Davy Jones would have one low-charting entry in 1971 ("Rainy Jane") and Michael Nesmith-- who was likely the most serious musician of the group -- would notch all three of his chart entries before his former bandmate.

What's even better, Nesmith did it on his own terms. Rather than simply making records reminding music listeners that he was once one of the Monkees, his work -- both solo and with The First  (and later, the Second) National Band -- was a mixture of rock, country, folk, bluegrass and whatever other styles he wanted to use. Even during his days with the Prefab Four, his compositions for the group ("Papa Gene's Blues," "What Am I Doing Hangin' Round?" and "Tapioca Tundra," among others) often showcased his eclectic style. Other artists liked recording his songs; The Stone Poneys (with lead singer Linda Ronstadt) had a huge hit with "Different Drum" and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band scored with "Some of Shelly's Blues."

"Silver Moon" is another one of his cross-genre tunes. It has a steel guitar solo, rhythm guitars that almost sound like they were cribbed from a reggae record and bluegrass-inspired yodeling at the end of the word "moon." That rarely amounts to Top 40 success (the song stalled at #42) but it makes for a great-sounding record if everything gels together.

Free - "The Stealer" Free - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Free - The Stealer

When Free had a massive hit with "All Right Now" in the Summer of 1970 on both sides of the Atlantic and a Top 20 LP Fire and Water, the band was rushed into the studio to see if they could go to the well again and record a successful follow-up. Unfortunately, neither the LP Highway nor the single "The Stealer" managed to recapture the magic of their big hit. The album reached a disappointing #190 and the single -- a straightforward rock song with a guitar riff that propels the tune forward -- fizzled out at #49. As they struggled to maintain their momentum, the band fell apart from internal issues.

Free's members had little success with their projects at first and tried to reunite in 1972. However, the internal issues persisted while drug abuse took an additional toll and Free was gone for good in '73. Singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke would form Bad Company and reach the level they couldn't quite reach as members of Free. Sadly, guitarist Paul Kossoff would die in 1976 from a heart attack brought on by his drug use. He was 25.

Robert John - "When the Party is Over" (Not available as MP3)

Brooklyn-born Robert John had been recording since he was a child; his first Billboard hit came in 1958 (when he was 12) under his real name Bobby Pedrick. He would spend much of the 1960s finding his voice, he recorded with several record labels and also part of the short-lived groups Bobby & the Consoles and The Carousel. In 1968, Robert John Pedrick would drop his given last name, probably to avoid any association with his earlier persona.

His best-known hits of the 1970s would be a 1972 remake of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and the #1 "Sad Eyes," both of which spotlighted his high-pitched tenor (a full falsetto on the latter hit). For his first hit single of the decade, John uses his regular vocal range and delivers a basic song, accented by a horn section and sax solo. "When the Party is Over" would be a minor hit, stalling at #71.

Elton John - "Your Song" Elton John - Elton John - Your Song

Before he became a mega-star known for his flashy stage attire and comic glasses, Elton John was just a bloke from England named Reg Dwight who played piano and tried to make his name in the music business. That was where he was in 1970 when he released his Elton John LP. "Your Song" would be an early turning point for the burgeoning artist. It would be his first U.S. Top 10 and help begin the string of hits that made him one of the biggest stars of the 1970s. In effect, it helped open some of the doors he needed but his stage show would help open the rest.

Beginning with a nice piano melody, Elton sings Bernie Taupin's lyrics in a conversational style -- even half-chuckling when he changes his mind mid-sentence -- while an acoustic guitar and strings accompany him. Essentially, "Your Song" is a love song written as a gift and sung in a self-deprecating manner. Considering the way his lyrics often came off as grandiose once he became a superstar, hearing a song where the singer sounds a little nervous getting the words out is refreshing.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This Week's Review -- November 20, 1976

Nine songs made their debut on Billboard's Hot 100 this week. Five would make the Top 40 (and another would fall just short), three would be Top 10 singles and two would go all the way to #1. Among the hits are a country tune, a pop song that probably could have been a decent country hit, a rock classic that couldn't get played on radio when it first came out (and later to become a crossover rap hit), a return to the charts by the Beatles as well as one of that group's former members.Read on to find out what they are...

Dickey Lee - "9,999,999 Tears" (Not available as MP3)

Dickey Lee had some modest success in the early 1960s both as a singer and a songwriter. His best-known hit was likely 1962's "Patches," the tale of a boy and a girl from different sides of the tracks that ends with both having committed suicide. As a songwriter, he wrote one of George Jones's best-loved hits "She Thinks I Still Care." By the 1970s, Lee's pop hits had dried up so like many singer/songwriters over the years he began recording for a country audience and saw some success there.

"9,999,999 Tears" was a tune that recalled Lee's 1960s heyday even if it didn't sound much like his best-known hit. Written by future country star Razzy Bailey, the song was originally recorded by its writer in 1966 with The Uniques. It's a catchy tune about lost love: the tears in the song are the number the singer still has yet to cry before getting over her...and even then, he won't be sure if he'll be done. It's not hard to like the way Lee sings out "I've got nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine tears to go" like he was doing it on Sesame Street with The Count. Also notable in the song is a guitar hook that gets played after every line in each verse. While it was a #3 hit on the country chart, it would be his final pop hit after peaking at #52.

Seals & Crofts - "Baby, I'll Give it to You" Seals and Crofts - Sudan Village - Baby I'll Give It to You

This was a cut from Seals & Crofts' live LP Sudan Village, even though (to my ears, at least) it doesn't sound like a live tune. Perhaps the sound engineers were able to capture the song without the ambient audience noise or edit it out in postproduction. Featuring a female singer on the track who isn't named on any of the online sites I've checked out but sounds like "Get Closer" guest vocalist Carolyn Willis (a former member of The Honey Cone), the song sounds like an attempt to try and capitalize on that big hit from earlier in the year. It didn't work, as the song only reached #58.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - "Blinded By the Light" Manfred Mann's Earth Band - The Roaring Silence - Blinded By the Light

Here's a song I remember talking about during my teenage years with schoolmates, and everybody had a different idea of the lyrics. A short time later, I managed to buy a used copy of The Roaring Silence LP and discovered the song's lyrics inside the gatefold. Boy, was I ever wrong about many of the lines. According to the official version, what I thought was "wrapped up like a douche" was really "revved up like a deuce" and what my friend Thomas swore was "little early birdie kept my anus curly-wurly" was actually "little early Pearlie came by in his curly-whirly." So rather than a feminine hygiene product, the song mentioned a souped-up roadster; furthermore, there was a helicopter reference instead of a questionable homosexual encounter.

As many fans know, "Blinded By the Light" was written by Bruce Springsteen and originally appeared on his debut LP Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J. Springsteen said he wrote the song using various images from his youth in South Jersey: "Indians in the summer" referred to his baseball team, the "silicone sister" was a stripper who worked in one of Asbury Park's strip clubs, mentions are made of having the mumps and that chip ("boulder") on the shoulder a lot of teens have. Manfred Mann's version omitted some of the lyrics used from The Boss's original and arranged the song differently. After the instrumental break (heavily edited for the single release), singer Chris Thompson sings the chorus repeatedly as either Mann -- who usually didn't sing on his band's hits -- or drummer Chris Slade (there's some disagreement about that, even though a promotional video from the era shows Mann handling the extra vocals...but then again, he could merely be lip synching) recounted the verses. They also tossed in a piano rendition of "Chopsticks," something that wasn't on Springsteen's original at all.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band took the song to #1 in February '77. It would be the only #1 Billboard Hot 100 single written by Springsteen; "Fire" by The Pointer Sisters and his own "Dancing in the Dark" both stalled at #2. That may come as a surprise to many, given his stature and success (though he did have a guest vocal in the 1985 #1 "We Are the World," he had no part in writing the song).

The Beatles - "Ob-La Di, Ob-La Da" (Not available as MP3)

The Beatles? In a discussion of music from 1976?

While "Ob-La Di, Ob-La Da" was originally featured on the 1968 LP The Beatles (more commonly known as "The White Album"), it wasn't released as a single then. At the time, none of that album's songs was slated for single release; the closest they came was "Revolution," the B-side of "Hey Jude" but the version on the LP was a slowed-down version titled "Revolution One." "Ob-La Di, Ob-La Da" would also appear on the 1973 #1 double greatest-hits LP The Beatles: 1967-'70 but none of that album's songs were released as singles in the U.S. either.

In 1976, Capitol Records released another double LP called Rock and Roll Music which was a repackaging of many of the band's more rock-based tunes spread across their career. Essentially, it was a way to make some more money off the back catalog of a group that had split up in 1970, whose distribution deal through Apple Records had ended in 1975 with that label's demise and whose former members were going in their own directions (by 1976, only Paul McCartney was still on the company's artist roster). After"Got to Get You into My Life" was released as a single and hit #7, Capitol once again went to the well with "Ob-La Di, Ob-La Da" which wasn't on the LP. Stalling at #47, it became the first Beatles single on the Hot 100 since "Matchbox" b/w "Slow Down" in 1964 to miss the Top 10.

(corrected 11/22/09: changed to reflect the fact that "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La Da" was not on the Rock and Roll Music LP. Thanks To Ron for the correction.)

George Harrison - "This Song" George Harrison - Thirty Three & 1/3 (Bonus Track Version) [Remastered] - This Song

It's fitting that the same week a song by The Beatles appears on the chart, one of the group's members was also making his own entry.

"This Song" was something of an answer to George Harrison's legal troubles that arose when "My Sweet Lord" sounded a lot like the 1963 Chiffons hit "He's So Fine." With lines like "as far as I know, don't infringe on anyone's copyright," "my expert says it's okay" and "this song came to me quite unknowingly" it's apparent Harrison felt the sting from his time in the courtroom. His sense of humor is intact, however; Harrison featured Eric Idle in the song shouting in a voice familiar to Monty Python fans about whether the song sounds like "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch" or "Rescue Me," and also filmed a music video for the song lampooning the legal proceedings that appeared on Saturday Night Live on the same date (November 20, '76) as the song's debut date on the Billboard chart. That said, for a humorous little ditty with a painful basis, Billy Preston (piano) and Tom Scott (saxophone) play their parts like they're entirely serious.

The song was the first single from the LP Thirty-Three and 1/3, which was both the speed of the LP on a turntable and Harrison's age when he released it. While the LP was hailed by critics as perhaps his finest since All Things Must Pass, it missed the Top 10 on the album charts ("This Song" only reached #25). For the rest of the 1970s, Harrison would focus more on his film projects and outside interests and less time in the studio.

Earth, Wind & Fire - "Saturday Nite" Earth, Wind & Fire - Spirit - Saturday Nite

While Earth, Wind & Fire was recording its LP Spirit, the group's arranger and producer Charles Stepney died of a heart attack. Despite the obvious setback, EW&F frontman Maurice White stepped into the role and took control of his group's direction from that point forward. The finished LP had two chart hits: "Getaway" (which hit #12) and "Saturday Nite" -- probably spelled that way to avoid confusion with the earlier Bay City Rollers hit -- a fair pop hit (#24) that fared much better on the Billboard R&B chart (#4). With two songs that missed the Top 10, Spirit was a bit of a disappointment after That's the Way of the World and "Shining Star," but fortunately the group wasn't ready to wind down.

As a song, "Saturday Nite" was okay. As an exercise in showcasing the group's horns, vocal harmonies and funky R&B vibe, it did the job but the group would accomplish the task even better on their next LP with "Serpentine Fire."

Mary MacGregor - "Torn Between Two Lovers" (Not available as MP3)

I have a confession. I had planned on just writing something generic for this song and avoiding actually listening to it as I wrote this week's review. Normally, I'll listen to a song at least three times before writing about it but this time I figured I've heard this one enough over time to have a preconceived opinion. Then, in discussion with a reader of this blog, I realized that part of the process of writing these reviews was to give every song a fresh listen...even if I was essentially holding my nose for a few minutes. Anything less would be unfair to my readers. So, I listened to the song.

I'm not ready to say that the tune has grown on me; it hasn't. However, the subject matter (woman agonizes over the fact she's in love with two people, knows she must decide but doesn't want to hurt either lover) should have made it an ideal country song. Not detracting from Mary MacGregor's voice or delivery, but handing the same song to Dolly Parton or Conway Twitty and using Nashville session players behind them may have made it better. However, the song was Mary MacGregor's alone and she took it to #1 pop and eventually #3 country.

Researching the song, I did learn some things I'd never known. The song was written by Phillip Jarrell and Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul & Mary) and was inspired by the novel Dr. Zhivago. It was originally intended to be sung from the male point of view, even though it was a woman would handle the successful hit version.

Aerosmith - "Walk This Way" (Not available as MP3)

It might be hard to believe, but this song was a dud when it first came out. As a single off the Toys in the Attic LP, it was released to radio in September 1975 but didn't chart. The band would need to hit with its next album Rocks before "Walk This Way" could get a second chance. The re-release brought good luck to the band, as the song hit #10 and became a hard rock classic, a 1970s anthem and one of the band's best-loved tunes. It also helped serve as a springboard to Aerosmith's late 1980s resurgence; after fading in the late 1970s due to substance abuse and interpersonal conflict between band members and several disappointing "comeback" albums, a rap cover of "Walk This Way" by Run-DMC in 1986 (with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry contributing) would not only help return the newly resurgent Aerosmith to platinum success but would help rap's popularity -- for better or worse -- among the white audience where that genre's sales were needed.

Not bad for a tune that couldn't get much airplay when it was first sent to radio stations.

Boz Scaggs - "What Can I Say" BOZ SCAGGS - Silk Degrees - What Can I Say

Released just after the success of Scaggs' great song "Lowdown" (which was still charting high as "What Can I Say" made its entry), this was another "blue-eyed" soul tune in the same vein but didn't have the crossover appeal as its predecessor. It just missed the Top 40 -- peaking at #42 -- but certainly deserved more success.

"What Can I Say" was one of four singles from Scaggs' highest-charting LP Silk Degrees. All four songs (the two already mentioned, "Lido Shuffle" and "It's Over") were co-written by Scaggs with keyboardist David Paich. Also on the LP was the song "We're All Alone," which would become a huge hit for Rita Coolidge in 1977. Paich and three other musicians from the LP (David Hungate, Steve Porcaro and Jeff Porcaro) would go on to form four-fifths of the band Toto in 1978.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Week's Review -- November 15, 1975

An infusion of new tunes made the Hot 100 chart this week, with 15 singles listed as "new." Actually, three of those songs were re-entering from earlier chart runs and all would go on to higher positions in their second tries. Eleven of the new songs would eventually make the Top 40, six got into the Top 10 and three went all the way to #1. Additionally, four songs remained on the Hot 100 for 20 weeks or more. Statistically speaking, this was a good crop of new songs.

Wing & a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps - "Baby Face" (Not available as MP3)

Disco's rise in the mid-1970s brought about some interesting attempts to cash in on its popularity. As the flood of disco records brought more music to mass markets, some interesting trends emerged. Among these was the remaking of songs from several decades in the past to the new beat. By late 1975, there were disco versions of the I Love Lucy theme, Xavier Cugat's "Brazil" and "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes." A group called Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band played 1940s-styled music for the disco audience and "Chattanooga Choo Choo" was a hit for Tuxedo Junction. Then there was "Baby Face."

"Baby Face" was a song that went back to the days when Billboard published charts ranking sheet music (they didn't start ranking songs until 1940). The song was written by Harry Akst (words) and Benny Davis (lyrics) in 1926. Jan Garber had the most successful version of several 78s featuring the tune. 49 years after it was written, the song was resurrected as a disco tune by a studio orchestra calling itself the Wing & a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps. With its typical disco arrangement and familiarity to the grandparents of many record buyers, the song hit #14 and stayed on the charts for 20 weeks. I remember liking the song as an elementary school student later in the 1970s and singing it in music class.

The Wing & a Prayer Fife & Drum Corps never managed to capitalize on that success, however. They never had another hit on the Hot 100 and their second LP (with a disco version of "Yes We Have No Bananas") didn't sell well either.

David Crosby & Graham Nash - "Carry Me" Crosby & Nash - Wind On the Water - Carry Me

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are a well-known supergroup but weren't really a group in the sense of being a band. They recorded together and separately (true to the "love the one you're with" attitude Stephen Stills sang about -- solo -- in 1971) so their collaborations have come in various sizes. By 1975, Neil Young and Stills were enjoying success on their own, so Crosby and Nash made a couple LPs as a duo. This tune came from their album Wind on the Water and topped out at #52. It wasn't a bad showing but may have been considered a disappointment based on past success; however, the song featured the impeccable harmonizing both Crosby and Nash are known for but the sparse arrangement and low-key instrumentation make the song uninspiring.

Stephen Still returned to the fold in 1977 and they once again enjoyed some of the fortunes they expected with "Just a Song Before I Go."

The Electric Light Orchestra - "Evil Woman" Electric Light Orchestra - Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra - Evil Woman

I have always liked this song. While growing up during the 1980s, I picked up a copy of ELO's Greatest Hits on cassette and listened to it until my tape player chewed it up. While recently showing my daughter a videotape one my friends made of me and the gang I grew up with when we were about 15, the group's Out of the Blue LP is clearly in sight on top of a stack of albums sitting on a dresser. So it goes without saying that I'll probably have a favorable position regarding any ELO tune that I review here.

"Evil Woman" was a very hook-filled, catchy song. From the piano riff that follows Jeff Lynne's opening line to the string section that plays where other bands would have placed a guitar solo to the way the vocals rise and fall with the orchestrated music, along with female background singers that sound like they were borrowed from a church choir, there are many layers to the song. Lynne's lyrics include nods to some of his influences: the line "there's a hole in my head where the rain cones in" was a variation of one from The Beatles' "Fixing a Hole" and the phrasing was reminiscent of what Del Shannon used to deliver many hit songs in the 1960s. The song was ELO's first to hit big on both sides of the Atlantic; in the U.S. it peaked at #10. It still gets a lot of airplay on classic rock stations, which explains how a group of kids growing up in upstate New York in the late 1980s would be videotaped having one of their records sitting on a dresser.

The Isley Brothers - "For the Love of You (Part 1 & 2)" The Isley Brothers - The Essential Isley Brothers - For the Love of You

As the 1970s progressed, The Isley Brothers were mixing the soul/R&B sound they built throughout the 1960s with rock and funk in their hit singles. Their previous single "Fight the Power" was as straightforward and funky one could get this side of the P-Funk universe. "For the Love of You" was a change in sound and direction, a slow, romantic ballad that was more in line with the burgeoning "Quiet Storm" format and a portent for many slow grooves the Isleys would record through the 1980s (one very similar example would be 1984's "Between the Sheets"). Listening to the song, it's easy to get lost in the harmonies, the mellow keyboard work of Chris Jasper and the slow, steady rhythm setting the stage for some lovin.'

Sweet - "Fox on the Run" Sweet - Desolation Boulevard - Fox on the Run

Sweet (or "The Sweet" as they were known in their native UK) were coming off their big #5 hit "Ballroom Blitz" and this poppier follow-up would match that peak position. Though Sweet is remembered for a handful of Top 40 singles in the U.S. they were a major act in their home country. With these back-to-back Top 5 hits, it appeared Sweet was about to taste the same success in America they had in Europe but it wasn't what fate had planned for them. One more gem ("Love is Like Oxygen") would follow in 1978 but the band was about to disintegrate under the trappings of its own success.

Sadly, lead singer Brian Connolly and drummer Mick Tucker have passed away. The two surviving members each front revival bans using the Sweet name.

Firefly - "Hey There Little Firefly" (Not available as MP3)

Firefly was a studio band that included Kenny Nolan, who would later go on to success with the songs "I Like Dreamin'" and "Love's Grown Deep." This was the second entry for the song; it had dropped off the charts a couple of weeks before after stalling at #96 but the second run saw it reach #67. It soon disappeared and Firefly never charted again.

I had never listened to this song until researching this week's hits (but always remembered the title because it was silly). Finally getting hold of the song and listening to it, I was pleasantly surprised. The song sounds like it was a lot of fun when it was laid down in the studio. Featuring an easy vibe that should have made it an MOR hit, you can hear Nolan's voice (sounding very much like the soaring one he used in "Love's Grown Deep") over the flute notes. A piano, drum, bass, some horns and handclaps provide the accompaniment and it's hard to dislike such an upbeat tune, even if the lyrics aren't exactly deep.

Barry Manilow - "I Write the Songs" Barry Manilow - Tryin' to Get the Feeling - I Write the Songs

Here's some irony. While Barry Manilow is famous as a writer of songs and commercial jingles, he didn't "write the songs" that he took to the top of Billboard's pop charts. Of the three #1 songs he sang (this one, "Mandy" and "Looks Like We Made it"), Manilow didn't write or co-write any of them. In the case of "I Write the Songs," Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys was the person who actually put the pen to paper. In fact, Manilow wasn't even the first to release it; David Cassidy and The Captain & Tennille both had the song on record before the more familiar version debuted on the chart. Regardless, the song is most often associated with Manilow.

Barry Manilow is one of those polarizing artists from the 1970s. He's loved by legions of fans, but there are a large number of critics as well. A person's opinion of this song is almost always dependent of which camp he (or she) has settled into. That said, "I Write the Songs" -- love it or hate it -- is one of the most recognizable tunes from the 1970s.

The Road Apples - "Let's Live Together" (Not available as MP3)

Here's another tune I hadn't ever heard before this week, which might be surprising considering it was a Top 40 hit. This was the second time on the chart for "Let's Live Together," which had fallen off the Hot 100 after peaking at #94. The second wind helped push the song to #35 in January '76.

Upon listening to "Let's Live Together" it comes across as a mellow tune. The easy-listening feel to the song likely helped get it into the Top 40 but the group didn't really stand out (the song sounds like Bill LaBounty fronting a band that plays bars and parties on the weekends). That's not saying the song is fact, the song is inoffensive in an AOR way, which helps detract from the fact that in 1975 there were still people who frowned on the concept of couples living together without being married.

The Allman Brothers Band - "Nevertheless" The Allman Brothers Band - Win, Lose or Draw - Nevertheless b/w "Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John" The Allman Brothers Band - Win, Lose or Draw - Louisiana Lou and Three Card Monty John

This two-sided single was pulled from the LP Win, Lose or Draw, one that is considered perhaps the poorest Allman Brothers LP of the 1970s. Whatever issues the band was dealing with (drugs, booze, Gregg Allman's marriage and separation from Cher), the band was clearly struggling at the time. Both Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts had been doing solo projects, so much of the work on their new album was done in separate studios. Allman added his part from an L.A. studio while the rest of the band recorded in Georgia, some of the songs were missing band members and the result was an uneven, disappointing LP. While the LP went to #5 on the basis of the band's fan base, their two-sided single wasn't a hit. It peaked at #67 and dropped off the Hot 100 after only three weeks.

A year later, the Allman Brothers Band split up. It would take two reunions and some hard choices before the band reclaimed its past standing as one of the best live acts in the music business.

The Ohio Players - "Love Rollercoaster" Ohio Players - Honey - Love Rollercoaster

This is one of those tunes that has never really gone away since it was a #1 smash on both the pop and soul charts. It has been a DJ favorite, a source of samples and a hit song for The Red Hot Chili Peppers twenty years later. The "rollercoaster" mentioned in the song was supposedly inspired by some heavy turbulence on an airplane flight (all the band members are listed as co-writers) but can also be an apt description of the funk coursing through the song. It's a great sonic workout.

Although the Ohio Players seemed to burst upon the scene in the early 1970s they had actually formed in 1959 and took more than a decade to make it big in the music business. Sadly, the band slipped back into obscurity by the late 1970s and hung on until the mid 1980s. In retrospect, the Ohio Players were more than a band that used risque album covers (which often featured nude or semi-nude women) to sell records; the best part of their albums were contained in the grooves once the cellophane was removed from the LP dust jacket.

Head East - "Never Been Any Reason" Head East - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Head East - Never Been Any Reason

Here's an example of a great rock song from the 1970s. Straight-ahead guitar-based rock, a driving beat and an easy-to-sing-along lyric combine to make this a song that could have defined arena rock if it were released ten years later. Synthesizer solos, alternating lead singers and harmonies by all four band members on the final lines in each verse and chorus add to the fun factor. In any case, it's a song that can be turned up while driving down a long stretch of highway and will help the trip seem so much shorter.

Considered the signature tune for Head East, it was the first track on their debut album Flat as a Pancake. This was the second visit to the Hot 100 for the song after it had fallen off a few weeks before; this time it hit #68. Interestingly, the band's follow-up single "Love Me Tonight" charted higher, even though "Never Been Any Reason" continues to be their best-known tune.

Kiss - "Rock and Roll All Night" KISS - Alive! - Rock 'n Roll All Nite

This was a live recording of a song Kiss had released as a single earlier in 1975. Actually, the title was different: the original version had been called "Rock and Roll All Nite." The original studio version only reached #68 during its May-June chart run, but this version (from the LP Alive!) would become their first Top 40 entry -- reaching #12 -- and become one of the band's most popular songs.

I remember as a kid I had friends who had Kiss posters on their bedroom walls but I didn't get much of a chance to hear the group then because my mother thought they were "trash" and forbade it. Perhaps it was the makeup, the pyrotechnics, the fake blood and the loud music, perhaps Gene Simmons consistently showing off the size of his tongue, but I'm guessing that if she had heard "Beth" or "Hard Luck Woman" on the radio without knowing who was doing the song she'd have been fine with them.

David Geddes - "The Last Game of the Season (The Blind Man in the Bleachers)" (Not available as MP3)

This was the second and last chart hit in David Geddes's short career. The first was "Run, Joey, Run" a #4 hit that played out like a melodrama. "Blind Man in the Bleachers" was another song that told a story...and like "Run, Joey, Run" somebody dies before the song is over. The song tells the story of a kid on his high school football team but doesn't see any playing time. His father (the blind man) still shows up to every game anyway. Well, when the final game is played the kid isn't there and neither is his father. Showing up around halftime, he begs the coach to put him in and ends up winning the game. At the end of the song, the boy explains that his father had passed away earlier that that was the first time he could watch his son play. It could've been an ABC Afterschool Special.

Rhythm Heritage - "Theme From S.W.A.T." (Not available as MP3)

S.W.A.T. was a brand-new television show for 1975 and followed a squad of police specialists who were called to handle difficult situations. It was one of the many shows that starred Robert Urich and had a short life because it was deemed incredibly violent. Although the theme song went to #1 on the singles chart and stayed 24 weeks before dropping off, the show's final episode was being shown around the same time as the song finally left the Hot 100.

The "Theme From S.W.A.T." was an instrumental that had an incredibly catchy melody. It sounded almost like the perfect 70's cop show music. The song was composed by Barry DeVorzon -- the same guy who had a hit with "Nadia's Theme (The Young & the Restless)" in 1976 -- and was produced by Steve Barri and Michael Omartian. Rhythm Heritage was a studio group that wasn't intended to be a band in the true sense; instead, it recorded music for TV shows and movies. While "S.W.A.T." was their biggest hit, they also scored with a theme from Baretta (though not the one used on the show) the next year.

Paul Anka - "Times of Your Life" Paul Anka - The Best of the United Artists Years (1973-1977) - Times of Your Life

"Do you remember? Do you remember...the times of your life." Close your eyes and you can hear the angelic female background vocals. Love it or hate it, Paul Anka knew how to craft a tune.

"Times of Your Life" was among the handful of hit songs from Paul Anka's mid-1970s comeback. It was also used in a commercial for Kodak cameras; the positive response from those ads encouraged Anka to let the song be issued as a single. Although his recent chart success had largely come from his duets with Odia Coates ("Having My Baby," "One Man Woman/One Woman Man," etc.), "Times of Your Life" would hit #7 in its 20-week run without her help but it would be his final Top 20 hit.

But don't feel bad for Anka's decline on the pop charts. The man who wrote "My Way" and The Tonight Show Theme (from Johnny Carson's era) and also once had the second-best-selling single of all time "Diana" (until the mid-1970s only Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" sold more copies) was enjoying his royalty checks for a long time after that.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This Week's Review -- November 10, 1973

There were only eight new songs appearing on Billboard's Hot 100 chart this week, and all but two went on to crack the Top 40. The two "misses" included a comeback of sorts by an American legend and a song that would re-enter the chart again in the form of two cover versions.

Frank Sinatra - "Let Me Try Again (Laissez Moi le Temps)" Frank Sinatra - Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back - Let Me Try Again [Laisse moi le temps]

Frank Sinatra wasn't exactly a stranger to the pop charts, considering the very first Billboard singles survey in 1940 listed Tommy Dorsey's "I'll Never Smile Again" -- with Sinatra handling the vocals -- as its #1 hit. Despite being one of the largest stars in the pop music constellation before Elvis Presley came along and helped change the dominant "sound," Sinatra was still charting hit singles into the 1960s in addition to acting and running his Reprise record label. In 1971, he retired from singing but never really went away.

In 1973, Sinatra ended his retirement and released the album Ol' Blue Eyes is Back. Though his talents suffer at the hands of producer Don Costa, the return of an icon of such tremendous stature unleashed a mountain of pre-release publicity...and the LP made #13 at a time where Sinatra's music was considered to be passe. Lady Luck wasn't with The Chairman of the Board on the Hot 100, though: "Let Me Try Again" stalled at #63 during its 10-week chart run and was one of only six chart singles he'd enjoy during the 1970s.

As for the song, it's not exactly on the same level as "I've Got You Under My Skin" or "Fly Me to the Moon" or "Witchcraft" or even "My Way," but I like it. It's not grating at all, even if the orchestra that accompanies him tries to drown him out at times (again, I fault Don Costa's production there). An older, less vital Sinatra is still worth listening to, even if only in the background.

Stevie Wonder - "Living for the City" Stevie Wonder - Innervisions - Living for the City

In a way, it's fitting to have Stevie Wonder follow Frank Sinatra in this week's review. For all of his talents (singer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist), he is another bright star in the pop music constellation. His 1970s output is legendary, with each LP in a five-year span being an improvement upon the last.

In 1973, he recorded Innervisions, which was likely inspired by Motown labelmate Marvin Gaye's What's Going On. Like Gaye, he was beginning to write songs about more "serious" issues that seemed to be overlooked in the Motown Sound of the 1960s even if they provided an undercurrent to the music. The LP had lyics about drugs, racial injustice and Richard Nixon even as it also had a spiritual side that aspired to rising above it all. Among the songs was "Living for the City," a seven-and-a-half minute opus that was edited down to 3:40 for the single. It recounted a family that had left Alabama for a better life in the North but found themselves struggling to keep their heads above water (perhaps it was an influence on the TV show Good Times, whose theme song had a similar but more hopeful vibe). The most noticeable missing piece of the 45 was the audio montage following a man who gets off the bus only to be set up by a con man and sent to jail, a part that leads into an extraordinary and emotional vocal performance by Stevie. The full version is definitely worth listening to if you've never had the pleasure.

The best part about Innervisions?  At 23, Wonder still had music to share with the world and more LPs to craft. He was just getting started.

War - "Me and Baby Brother" War - Deliver the Word - Me and Baby Brother (LP Version)

Despite being largely remembered for their period backing Eric Burdon early in the 1970s after he left The Animals, War would go on to become a very successful group on its own merit. As a group that used elements of funk, jazz, and Latin rhythms that was largely influenced by their Los Angeles roots, they developed a sound that was both unique and inclusive. For example, one large part of their sound was a harmonica played by a white Danish guy named Lee Oskar.

"Me and Baby Brother" appeared on the band's Deliver the Word LP but had been a jam simply called "Baby Brother" in their concerts for a few years before that. Even though it lacked the urban reality that marked much of the band's material of the era, it wasn't out of character for a group that had previously hit with "All Day Music" and "Summer." Most of all, "Me and Baby Brother" had an infectious beat. Later in the decade, the song would be one of the War tunes featured in the film Youngblood.

John Lennon - "Mind Games" JOHN LENNON - Mind Games (Remastered) - Mind Games

Among the ex-Beatles, John Lennon was the least successful (as far as chart fortunes went) by late 1973. At the time, all three of his former mates had scored #1 singles but the best Lennon had done was a pair of #3 titles ("Instant Karma" and "Imagine"). However, sometimes chart success is hard to gauge individual accomplishments; in Lennon's case, he tended to follow his own interests rather than what would sell records. He followed his heart and wrote songs about politics, revolution and other topics that often alienated listeners and radio programmers, so his chart success didn't usually match the level of his influence.

"Mind Games" was an interesting tune in that it would be the only hit single Lennon would have in the two-and-a-half year period between May 1972 and September 1974. As he was recording the Mind Games LP, he split from his wife Yoko Ono and began a period he called his "lost weekend." The album cover (shown below) helps explain how Lennon felt at the time. He was all alone in an empty field with little idea which way to go, while Yoko loomed in the background like a mountain. I'm not going to try and figure out why there are two suns in the picture, though.

Kevin Johnson - "Rock 'n Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)" (Not available on MP3)

This song was both a narrative about life as a rock & roll singer and a way to pay homage to Johnson's influences and experiences. As Johnson recounts the events, growing up in the 1950s and picking up Chuck Berry records ("78s and all") to living in San Francisco in '66 to settling down to eventually realizing that he wasn't going to make it because he was always "one step behind."

The song died a quick death on the charts, peaking at #73 and only lasting four weeks. However, a year later, both Mac Davis and Terry Jacks debuted with their cover versions of the song and Davis took it to #15.

David Essex - "Rock On" David Essex - Rock On - Rock On

I'll probably get some grief for saying this,'s a song that is considered a classic by many, yet I've always considered slow and boring. There, I've said it.

There's no doubt it was popular: it hit #5 and spent 25 weeks on the U.S. charts at a time where that was an eternal run, but even though I get the fact that it references "Blue Suede Shoes," "Summertime Blues" and James Dean and other 1950s memories I don't get the immense popularity. That said, it's worth mentioning that in my own youth I was still in high school in 1989, when a soap opera actor named Michael Damien released his own take on the tune and had a #1 hit with it. I suffered a lot of bad music that year that had been spoon-fed through our local Top 40 radio (New Kids on the Block, Michael Bolton, Martika's "Toy Soldiers"), so that may have poisoned my outlook on Essex's version.

Jim Stafford - "Spiders & Snakes" Jim Stafford - The Best of Jim Stafford - Spiders and Snakes

Unlike "Rock On," here's a song I didn't like the first time I heard it, yet grew to like it. Around the time I was 12, I was looking through my parents' record collection and found the 45 for "Spiders & Snakes." I really didn't like the swamp guitar opening or the half-spoken, half-singing lyrics but I doubt many 12-year olds would. Several years later -- after I was on the other side of adolescence -- I understood that the song was about growing up and told from the perspective of a grown man looking back. It was a perspective I didn't have at 12 and the same reason I eventually came around to liking Bob Seger's "Night Moves" after I grew up as well.

Tony Orlando & Dawn - "Who's in the Strawberry Patch With Sally" Tony Orlando & Dawn - Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Definitive Collection - Who's In the Strawberry Patch With Sally

This song came off an LP called Dawn's New Ragtime Follies, which explains why "Strawberry Patch" has a 1920s Dixieland feel to it even if it does sound exactly like a Tony Orlando & Dawn tune. As a followup to both "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree" and "Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose" it may have been a little sweet for even 1970s radio. Although the song reached #27 on the charts, it was a far cry from the Top 3 positions both those tunes reached.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

This Week's Review -- November 5, 1977

Seven songs debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. However, although only five made the Top 40, the other two weren't exactly duds; one was a multi-week #1 on the country charts and the other was a song that had already gone to #1 three years earlier.

Andy Gibb - "(Love is) Thicker Than Water" (Not available as MP3)

Coming off the heels of his debut chart single -- and #1 smash hit -- "I Just Want to Be Your Everything," Andy Gibb was poised to ride this song to #1 as well. In Andy Gibb's case, having The Bee Gees as his brothers, his writers and his producers didn't hurt him at all. Neither did his record company, RSO, which held a hammerlock on Billboard's #1 position between December 24, 1977 and May 13, 1978. In that time, six consecutive songs from RSO held the #1 spot: Gibb's single, four tracks from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and  Player's "Baby Come Back."

(Adding this part here and then moving on...there have been rumors that the manager involved in ranking the hits on Billboard during this era had a close relationship with RSO and may have "helped" the label's success. Whether it's truth or fiction doesn't change the official record, so I'll bring it up here for the sake of completeness and go back to the song).

All three of Andy Gibbs' first charted singles hit #1, and "Thicker" was probably the weakest of the three. Though it has great support from his brothers and sounds great, it lacks that rhythm that propelled his earlier hit "I Just Want to Be Your Everything" and the catchy bridge or orchestration that made "Shadow Dancing" one of the biggest hits of 1978. That said, it's a shame that much of his material isn't more available. His CDs are out of print (and expensive to pick up -- even used -- on Amazon).

Stevie Wonder - "As" Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life - As

"As" preceded "Another Star" on Side 4 of Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life LP but followed it as a single. Like "Another Star," it only barely made the Top 40 (peaking at #36). Sometimes called "Always" by listeners because the word "As" really isn't prominent in the song (it appears at the beginning of two lines, but "always" punctuates many lines and "until" begins many more lines), the song featured a keyboard solo by Herbie Hancock.

This was the fourth and final single from Songs in the Key of Life, perhaps Wonder's most ambitious LP. One song from the album ("Isn't She Lovely") gained a lot of airplay but never was released as a single. After "As" was dropped from radio playlists fans would have to wait two more years for the next Stevie Wonder LP.

Tom Petty & the Hearbreakers - "Breakdown" Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Breakdown

Tom Petty is now a very well-known figure in music, but he was a new face in 1977 and this was his debut chart single. Even though it only topped out at #40, the song was a solid entry and still gets play on classic rock stations today. As a song, it featured a stripped-down sound: the lyrics were simple ("it's all right in you love me, it's all right if you don't...") and Mike Campbell's guitar really stands out. While Petty has pointed to The Byrds, Bob Dylan and psychedelic music as his influences, "Breakdown" is more in line with roots rock (even if it was amped up). Though Petty's fame was still a couple years away -- the 1979 LP Damn the Torpedoes would be considered a breakthrough -- "Breakdown" was a way of announcing that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had arrived.

Santa Esmeralda - "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" Santa Esmeralda - Santa Esmeralda - Hits Anthology - Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

I miss XM Radio's Channel 83 ("Chrome"). It disappeared right after the provider merged with Sirius and combined the two companies' lineups in November 2008. Though the channel sometimes was something of an acquired taste, sometimes there would be some great stuff streaming there. Once, I had to drive an hour away from home for a job interview. While I was on the long stretch of interstate that went through a National Forest (and had no exits for many miles), they played the extended version of Santa Esmeralda's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" and I found myself literally out of the woods before I knew it.

For those who remember "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" as a 1965 Animals song might have found Santa Esmeralda's Latin twist to be odd, but the song had originally been written for Nina Simone to be played in a Latin style. By mixing the song's Latin roots with The Animals' urgency and setting it to a disco beat, the song was perfect for the dance floor. It would peak at the same #15 position that The Animals reached in 1965; however, a follow-up single remaking "House of the Rising Sun" (another classic best remembered from The Animals) wasn't as good or as successful.

Like many disco "acts," Santa Esmeralda was essentially a studio group fronted by Leroy Gomez (an American who was living in Europe). Despite sounding like they could be from New York or Miami, Santa Esmeralda called Paris home. The fact that their biggest hit doesn't sound a lot like standard Eurodisco has a lot to do with its continued popularity. Unfortunately, the available MP3s on Amazon are for re-recorded versions. A 10-minute version of the original is available as part of the Kill Bill, Vol. 1 soundtrack; however, the entire MP3 album must be purchased in order to get it.

Diana Ross - "Gettin' Ready for Love" Diana Ross - Diana Ross: The Motown Anthology - Gettin' Ready for Love

The 1970s were hit-or-miss for Diana Ross when it came to chart fortunes. After reaching the Top 10 consistently with The Supremes during the 1960s (and hitting #1 12 times), Ross's solo career was more uneven once she left the trio. Beginning in 1970, she would go through a decade-long stretch where her pop singles either hit #1 or missed the Top 10 altogether. The fourth and final 1970s #1 hit would be "Love Hangover," a song that gave Ross an entry into the burgeoning disco scene. When Motown released Ross's Baby It's Me LP in 1977, the first song on the record was "Gettin' Ready for Love," another chance to return to the goldmine exploited by "Love Hangover."

While the song isn't terrible, it is another way of pointing out how Diana Ross was becoming less of an important part of Motown's universe. While she still possessed a great voice, her material wasn't the more edgy stuff her labelmates Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were putting out. And the results were evident: Gaye and Wonder enjoyed #1 hits in 1977 and this song peaked at #27. For Diana Ross, the next important part of her career came after she left Motown in 1980, paired up with producers Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards and recorded the material her fans knew she was capable of all along.

The Kendalls - "Heaven's Just a Sin Away" The Kendalls - The Kendalls: 20 Greatest Hits - Heaven's Just a Sin Away

The Kendalls were a father-and-daughter duo who enjoyed a handful of Top 10 hits on the country charts during the 1970s and '80s. Three of those hits reached #1 and this one was the biggest, spending 4 weeks on top in an era where multi-week country #1s were becoming rare. The massive country success didn't cross over to the pop side, as "Heaven's Just a Sin Away" peaked at #69 and was the group's only chart entry.

Without focusing on the "creepiness" factor of hearing a father and daughter sing "cheatin' songs" together, this song is absolutely catchy. Daughter Jeannie has a great voice, father Royce handles the harmony well and a funky-sounding clavinet drives the song from the speakers into the deepest recesses of the listener's brain. Even for people who don't care much for country music, this song offers a lot.

Olivia Newton-John - "I Honestly Love You" Olivia Newton-John - Gold: Olivia Newton-John - I Honestly Love You

The last song to debut this week was familiar to listeners, since it had already been a #1 hit back in 1974. When Olivia Newton-John's American label MCA released her Greatest Hits LP, they re-released what had been her most successful single to that point. This time around, the single stalled at #48. Fortunately for "Livvy," her fans would get more chances to hear her sing. The movies Grease and Xanadu and a monster hit called "Physical" would ensure that for the next five years.