Saturday, July 31, 2010

This Week's Review --  July 31, 1976

Six singles debut in the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Only two would eventually make the Top 40, with one reaching the Top 10. Both of the songs that made the Top 40 are still played frequently on American radio stations today. One of the songs that missed was a rerecording of a song that had already hit #1 in 1967 and was competing with the original version, while another was one of three versions of the same song on that week's chart. The other two would be the final hits for their artists.

Although Google Books has an archive of past issues of Billboard available to read online, the July 31, 1976 edition is missing.

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Orleans - "Still The One" Orleans - Rhino Hi-Five: Orleans - EP - Still the One

(Debuted #69, Peaked #5, 18 Weeks on chart)

Woodstock, New York is perhaps best remembered by music fans for a series of music festivals (1969, 1994 and 1999), none of which were actually held there. However, the small Upstate New York town has long been home to artists, writers and musicians and many acts (Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison and Todd Rundgren among them) recorded there. The group Orleans was founded there in 1972.

"Still the One" was written by group founder John Hall and his then-wife Johanna. A song about a couple still finding the spark after a long time together, the song remains very popular on AC (or "Lite FM") radio nearly 35 years later. It was sufficiently mellow for its time, good enough to latch on to the easy-listening crowd but still danceable at a family reunion or other get-together. It would become Orleans' highest-charting pop hit and was even used as a theme for ABC-TV's 1977 series promos. To underscore its timeless quality, the song would appear years later in commercials and even at political events, especially after co-writer John Hall was elected to Congress in 2006.

Ironically, for a song that is widely seen as a celebration of couples who can still find a reason to have fun even after years together...John and Johanna Hall are no longer married. They divorced in 2000.

Bobbie Gentry - "Ode To Billie Joe" (1976 Version, Not Available on MP3)

(Debuted #81, Peaked #65, 4 Weeks on chart)

In 1976, a made-for-TV movie based on the mysterious lyrics in Bobbie Gentry's 1967 #1 hit "Ode to Billie Joe" debuted. Though the beauty of the song was he way Gentry told the story with a matter-of-fact voice over the strums of an acoustic guitar and let the strings behind her add to the perceived mystery, leave it to Hollywood to take that and try to exhibit a similar feeling on a television set. Either the people who greenlighted the project weren't aware that adding a visual element ruins the way an imagination can concoct extra things in a storyline or else they just didn't care. Yet, I suppose if they made a movie based on any 1967 song, "Ode to Billy Joe" was a better idea than, say, "A Day in the Life" or Society's Child."

Along with the TV movie, Bobbie Gentry was sent back into the recording studio to sing a new version of her old hit. This time around, the voice was more mature and the words emphasized differently. The orchestration on the new version was more subdued, which seems to have made the lyrics less mysterious. Both versions would chart on the Hot 100 in 1976, with the original re-appearing on July 17 and the remake following two weeks later. Despite the exposure from the made-for-TV movie, neither one would make the Top 40; the original version eventually won the race, peaking at #54 before both versions fell off the chart at the same time.

Blue Oyster Cult - "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" Blue Öyster Cult - Agents of Fortune - (Don't Fear) The Reaper

(Debuted #83, Peaked #12, 20 Weeks on chart)

A short time ago in an online discussion forum, I was mentioning how many 1970s songs were about death. Not death like the 1960s car crash songs (though they appeared in 1970s songs as well) but in songs that either had somebody dying in the lyrics ("Dark Lady," "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," "Rocky" by Austin Roberts or David Geddes's "Run Joey Run") or were somewhat philosophical about the topic. There were songs about men preparing themselves for their execution ("Renegade" by Styx, "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen) or simply realizing that death is inevitable, like in "Seasons in the Sun" or "Doctor My Eyes." I really don't know whether it was a product of a generation growing up in the face of Vietnam and watching their own countrymen get killed at Kent State, or musicians becoming aware of their own mortality as they watched friends like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and even Jim Croce get taken while still in their twenties. Of course, there's always stuff like The Buoy's "Timothy" that was rather macabre in its lyrics and Bloodrock's "D.O.A." that was just morbid.

Even though some critics have claimed it glorified suicide with its references to Romeo and Juliet, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" fell into the more philosophical camp. Written and sung by group member Buck Dharma, the song has its share of cryptic messages that have been parsed many times and have been interpreted several different ways. One interpretation by a childhood buddy assumed the song was about marijuana (he'd heard the title as "Don't Fear the Reefer"). Whatever Dharma was thinking about when he wrote the lyrics, his band certainly laid down a great track in the studio. From the guitar layers to the group's harmonies, it's a song that can be enjoyed even without paying a lot of attention to the words.

(I would be sorry if I didn't mention here that whenever I hear the clanking of the cowbell in this song, I always hear Christopher Walken's voice in the back of my mind yelling "More cowbell!" from that Saturday Night Live skit.)

Ronnie Dyson - "The More You Do It (The More I Like It Done To Me)" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #62, 12 Weeks on chart)

Ronnie Dyson had entered the mainstream consciousness during the late 1960s when he was a cast member of the New York production of Hair. On the Broadway soundtrack LP, that's his voice opening up the song "Aquarius" with "When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars..." Afterward, he had a string of pop and R&B hits throughout the 1970s and established himself as a singer of songs that had a fragile vulnerability to them.

For his final pop hit, Dyson had a markedly different approach. "The More You Do it" was the title song from Dyson's 1976 LP and its only hit single. Performing with a gospel-style delivery, Dyson is backed by a call-and-response female chorus. While parts of the song sound musically similar to Natalie Cole's "This Will Be" from the previous year, it's probably due to the influence of writer/producer team Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancey, who were responsible for that song as well. Though this would be his final pop hit, Dyson still managed hits on Billboard's R&B and dance charts into the 1980s. Sadly, his 1991 R&B duet with Vicki Austin "Are We So Far Apart" was a posthumous release; Dyson died of heart failure in November 1990.

John Sebastian - "Hideaway" John Sebastian - Welcome Back - Hideaway

(Debuted #96, Peaked #95, 2 Weeks on chart)

After having his solo career boosted by the theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter, John Sebastian stumbled out of the gate with his first single after his #1 single. Without the benefit of being led off by one of Gabe Kaplan's corny "uncle" jokes, "Hideaway" wasn't as well-received by radio. Two weeks after it appeared on the Hot 100, it was gone.

According to the lyrics, the "Hideaway" in the song was a secret clubhouse where he and a school buddy would hang out (presumably a memory from Sebastian's childhood in New York City) after school let out. From a basement window, they watch people walk by and talk about whatever they feel like discussing. At one point, Sebastian's lyrics mention that the friend was a girl, hinting that this friendship was one that was developing as a boy and girl were each beginning to discover the charms of the opposite sex. Despite a bouncy melody that was both contemporary for the 1970s and evocative of more innocent music from the 1960s, it wasn't quite as memorable as the TV theme was. The former leader of The Lovin' Spoonful never had another hit single.

Revelation - "You To Me Are Everything (Part 1)" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #98, 2 Weeks on chart)

With the entry of Revelation's only hit single, three different versions of this song would be on the Hot 100 at the same time. The original song by a group called (appropriately enough) The Real Thing had been a #1 single in their native U.K. However, its success in this country was stalled by competition with American cover versions. For the week ending July 31, 1976, The Real Thing's version was listed at #86, while the group Broadway was holding down #88 with the song and Revelation debuted at #98. All three songs would be listed in the next week's Hot 100 as well before the two remakes fell off the chart.

Revelation's version was produced by Freddie Perren and released on the RSO label. Vocally, it was a fairly faithful recreation of the British hit, with more lush orchestration backing up the singers. It was recorded as a 6-and-a-half minute disco single and split in two parts for the 7-inch single release. A song of devotion, it was a song that could have been a bigger hit for someone if there wasn't any confusion over three different singles.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

This Week's Review -- July 23, 1977

Nine new singles debut this week, with six making the Top 40 and four reaching the top 10. However, two of those would be held out of the #1 spot by Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" during that song's 10-week run at the top of the chart. With such a large number of hits, it's not surprising that most were targeted toward a pop audience. One was a James Bond movie theme, another was a tailor-made FM radio staple, and yet another was a live track by the Bee Gees. Two songs had seemingly misleading titles involving rock music, with a song recorded by a teen idol and another evoking a future restaurant chain. Among the few songs that missed the Top 40 were two from the R&B side that were perhaps worth another listen: one was a funky chant to the performers' home state and the other was a song that was warning the queen of the castle that her man was coming home and was in the mood for love.

Most of my reviews have a link to the Billboard issue containing the Hot 100 list; however, the July 23, 1977 edition is missing from the archive at Google Books.

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The Bee Gees - "Edge Of The Universe" Bee Gees - Here At Last... Bee Gees... Live - Edge of the Universe

(Debuted #76, Peaked #26, 13 Weeks on chart)

Originally released in 1975 on The Bee Gees' Main Course LP and as the B-Side of their "Nights on Broadway" single, "Edge of the Universe" would see its own single release after being included on the band's Here at Last...Bee Gees...Live album in '77. The record was the group's first official live LP, and "Edge of the Universe" would be its only charting single in the U.S. At the time the double live LP was hitting the record stores, it fulfilled its purpose by keeping the Brothers Gibb in the eyes of the public as they recorded the music for Saturday Night Fever, which began the most lucrative phase of their career.

As a studio cut, "Edge of the Universe" was among the standout tracks on an excellent LP. As a live track, it was a good song even if it may not have been a highlight of the stage show. Perhaps the song was released as a 45 from the live LP because it was overlooked as a single the first time around; the brothers' harmonies are typically great, even if the music behind them wasn't exactly the way it could be performed in the studio.

Shaun Cassidy - "That's Rock 'n' Roll" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #77, Peaked #3, 24 Weeks on chart)

While Cassidy's singing career was quite successful during the late 1970s, it was little more than an auxiliary to his career as an actor and teen idol. At the time "That's Rock 'n' Roll" was a hit, Cassidy was appearing as Joe Hardy in The Hardy Boys Mysteries. One of the show's episodes ("The Mystery of the Flying Courier," which first aired April 10, 1977) ended with Cassidy singing the song in what may have been a hastily-written attempt to tie the record into the show.

"That's Rock 'n' Roll" was written by Eric Carmen. Coming from the person who sang "Go All the Way" and "I Wanna Be With You" it was fine, but on a single with a picture sleeve taken from a pin-up poster, the title may have seemed like a joke, especially those who took their rock music seriously.

Foreigner - "Cold As Ice" Foreigner - Foreigner (Deluxe Version) - Cold As Ice

(Debuted #81, Peaked #6, 21 Weeks on chart)

For all of its million-selling records and Top 10 hits, Foreigner certainly had its share of critics. Slickly produced studio pablum, some said. Others called them the high priests of "cock rock," performing songs about one-night stands and gratuitous sex. In the case of "Cold As Ice" -- a song whose lyrics appear to be about a woman who doesn't put out -- didn't likely sway those critics. While the "Arena Rock" label wasn't applied to Foreigner until the 1980s, the group managed to enjoy some monster hits with their 1970s material yet managed to continue into the new decade without missing a beat or losing their momentum; the same can't be said for a lot of their fellow 1970s hitmakers.

Looking past the lyric sheet, the song's true strength lies in its musicianship. From the memorable piano intro to the keyboard embellishments, from Mick Jones's guitar solo to Lou Gramm's pleading yet restrained delivery, from the group's backing harmonies to the way the music drives the song along, the song is very well assembled. The record-buying public agreed, making it the band's second Top 10 American hit single in as many tries.

Carly Simon - "Nobody Does It Better" Carly Simon - The Best of Bond...James Bond - Nobody Does It Better

(Debuted #83, Peaked #2, 25 Weeks on chart)

"Nobody Does it Better" was the title theme for the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (a title that was inserted into the lyrics). Had it not been held down by of Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life," it could have become Simon's second #1 hit. However, it missed becoming the first #1 song from a James Bond movie, settling for the same #2 peak as Paul McCartney & Wings' "Live and Let Die" from 1973. Despite being a well-regarded singer/songwriter, Simon didn't write the song; Carole Bayer Sager was the lyricist and Marvin Hamlisch composed the music.

One of the last soundtrack hits before the dual edged swords of big-budget blockbusters like Star Wars and the music-driven pictures like Grease and Saturday Night Fever changed the way movies were scored and developed, "Nobody Does it Better" is a well-produced song that showcases many elements of 1970s songcrafting. Besides the carefully-chosen lyrics, there is also a pitch-perfect Carly Simon double-tracked in the chorus, proficient studio work and an orchestra behind her providing a dramatic backdrop as the song faded. Just before the final fade-out, you can hear her sing, "James, you're the best," a nod to both James Bond and her then-husband James Taylor.

Carole King - "Hard Rock Cafe" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #30, 11 Weeks on chart)

Today, the name Hard Rock Cafe is best known as the name of a chain of restaurants that places music memorabilia on its walls. While the original London restaurant was open when Carole King released a song with their name as a title, they had not yet expanded to other locations. In the case of King's song, the "hard rock cafe" was a watering hole where anybody could come in and unwind. As a lyric, "hard" and "rock" don't seem to describe a form of music as much as they evoke the idea of being between a rock and a hard place. At the cafe in King's song, there are others who are in the same boat and can help ease the feeling ofr a short time.

"Hard Rock Cafe" was taken from King's first Capitol LP Simple Things, the first album to miss the Top 10 LP chart since her Tapestry breakthrough. It would be her final Hot 100 hit of the 1970s as well.

Lou Rawls - "See You When I Git There" Lou Rawls - Lou Rawls: Love Songs - See You When I Git There

(Debuted #86, Peaked #66, 7 Weeks on chart)

With his velvet-smooth voice, Lou Rawls was able to adapt his style to several genres: gospel, blues, jazz and pop. His wide vocal range let him adapt with changes in the music, yet did so without seeming to follow trends. His mid-70s association with producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and their Philadelphia International label gave Rawls's career a huge boost, which he was still riding when his LP Unmistakably Lou and the single "See You When I Git There" were released.

Beginning with a piano and guitar intro, Rawls delivers a few spoken lines -- an aside to somebody, asking for change for the phone call he's about to make -- before launching into his song as the conversation begins. The lyrics tell of a man who's coming home to enjoy some special time with his wife, with no distractions or worries. The music is quite similar to his '76 hit "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine," including female backing singers, Latin-influenced rhythm and orchestrated flourishes. Both songs were written and produced by Gamble and Huff, which accounts for the similarities. Though the song would stall at #66 on the pop charts, it made the R&B Top 10.

The title and lyrics of "See You When I Git There" took on an entirely different meaning when Rawls passed away in 2006 after battling cancer.

Natalie Cole - "Party Lights" Natalie Cole - Unpredictable - Party Lights

(Debuted #88, Peaked #79, 4 Weeks on chart)

Perhaps the best known recording of any song called "Party Lights" was the 1962 Claudette Clark hit; however, Natalie Cole recorded a different song altogether for her 1977 LP Unpredictable. Where Clark's self-written hit was a lament she isn't going to the party across the street, Cole's song (written by keyboard player Tennyson Stephens) is a disco-influenced tune designed to work on the dance floor. This time around, the singer is part of the action.

"Party Lights" had a short stay on the pop chart, but managed to reach the R&B Top 10. Coming on the heels of the smash ballad "I've Got Love on My Mind" (reviewed on this blog last January), it was a disappointing showing at a time when dance songs were among the hottest things going.

The Ohio Players - "O-H-I-O" Ohio Players - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Ohio Players - O-H-I-O

(Debuted #90, Peaked #45, 12 Weeks on chart)

Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover. The title suggests a cheer for The Ohio Player's home state, and the lyrics are exactly that: a continual recitation of the title. However, the meat of the song lies not in the words but in the music, and the song is driven by a funky groove. "O-H-I-O" began a jam session the band would use to close out their shows, and its success onstage led the group to strip it down and get it recorded for their Angel LP.

A good song for listeners who happened to be from the group's home state, "O-H-I-O" would ultimately be the group's final appearance on the Hot 100, despite charting on the Soul chart for another decade after that. It would be the end of a solid groove laid down by the band that lasted five funky years.

Heatwave - "Boogie Nights" Heat Wave - The Best of Heatwave - Always and Forever - Boogie Nights

(Debuted #93, Peaked #2, 27  Weeks on chart)

Summer 1991. I was in the U.S. Army, stationed at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. One weekend, I was at the enlisted mens' club with some buddies. We were enjoying a few beers and blowing off some steam after a hard week. There were two parts to the club: upstairs was an R&B-style club and the one downstairs was for the guys whose tastes weren't so...well, ethnic. Since stuff like Guns &  Roses, Metallica and Van Halen were big at the time, that was much of what got played downstairs. The DJ would sometimes toss in something different to change the mood, and at one point that night, he tossed "Boogie Nights" out for us. I remember a few of my buddies looking at each other with a "What the F...?!" look during the opening but one of the guys jumped out on the floor and as the song kicked into gear the rest of us followed. There we were, a bunch of half-drunk, off-duty (and for some of us, still underage) soldiers having the time of their lives.

It's interesting that the song triggers a memory from my Army service, because Heatwave's story begins with two American soldiers. Johnnie Wilder and his brother Keith were American servicemen stationed in Germany who moonlighted in a local band. Remaining in Germany after being discharged, the Wilder brothers eventually joined with keyboardist and songwriter Rod Temperton in London and founded Heatwave as a multiracial, multinational and multicultural group. Their first American hit was "Boogie Nights," a song that began slow but then picked up the pace at the end of the intro to become a dance tune, which was obviously helped by the rising disco craze of the era. The song peaked at #2 on the pop charts both in America and in the U.K. and was a #5 soul hit.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

This Week's Review -- July 20, 1974

An interesting list of new singles this time around. Of the seven singles that debuted in Billboard's Hot 100 this week, five would make the Top 40, with two becoming Top 10 hits. Interestingly, the two songs that missed the 40 were both cover versions of a song that had already been a hit for a different group. Among the others was an English studio group that sounded like a 1960s California band, another bunch of English sessionmen who became a band, a song paying tribute to Wolfman Jack and an Oakland-based band known today for its famed horn section.

Google has an online archive of past issues of Billboard, including the July 20, 1974 edition. The full Hot 100 list is on page 68. On page 28 is part of an interview with disc jockey/announcer Gary Owens (of Laugh-In fame) about his early influences and commercial work. Two stories explain how inflation was affecting consumers. A front-page story reported the effect of an across-the-board rise in LP prices and their effect on customers' buying patterns. Also, an article on page 41 mentions the change of many jukeboxes to "2-for-a-quarter" rather than a dime per song. Finally, as a way of showing that not everything was costing more, page 4 reports the fourth-class postage rate for mailing records, books and tapes (which we now call "media mail") would remain as it was at least for another year: 18 cents for anything up to a pound, plus 8 cents for each additional pound. From the benefit of the passage of 36 years, those prices sure seem quaint.

Wolfgang's Vault

The Guess Who - "Clap For The Wolfman" The Guess Who - The Guess Who: Anthology - Clap for the Wolfman

(Debuted #71, Peaked #6, 16 Weeks on chart)

"Clap For the Wolfman" was the final Top 10 hit for The Guess Who. A lot had happened to the Canadian group since their last Top 10 hit (1970's "Share the Land"). A revolving door of band members that began when guitarist Randy Bachman left during that 1970 high point made it hard to keep track of who was playing in the group from one LP to the next. By 1974, only singer Burton Cummings and drummer Garry Peterson were left from those days. As the band kept changing, their singles stumbled on the U.S. charts.

"Clap For the Wolfman" was an homage to Robert Smith, a Brooklyn-born radio DJ who used the name Wolfman Jack. During the 1960s, The Wolfman broadcast from a station just south of the U.S./Mexico border that had such a high wattage that he was heard over much of the U.S. at night. By the time the song appeared in 1974, The Wolfman was a star, who had appeared in the film American Graffiti as himself and was hosting The Midnight Special on NBC-TV. Wolfman Jack's voice is also heard in the song, doing his DJ banter. It would be one of several songs featuring his voice during the 1970s.

True to the unwritten rule that appealing to big-time DJs is one sure way to score a hit single on radio, "Clap For the Wolfman" would become The Guess Who's biggest hit in years. However, it would be the band's final Top 10 appearance. After more instability with the group lineup, they broke up in 1975.

Edgar Winter - "River's Risin'" The Edgar Winter Group - Shock Treatment - River's Risin'

(Debuted #72, Peaked #33, 9 Weeks on chart)

After the great success of the LP They Only Come Out at Night, the Edgar Winter Group were under pressure to follow it up with another that sustained their momentum. Their next album Shock Treatment certainly tried, but as music fans began to gravitate toward dance tunes, the boogie-woogie blues styling that colored much of the band's work was beginning to fall out of favor.

"River's Risin'" was written by Dan Hartman, who takes the lead vocals on the song. With simple lyrics about the passing of time and the cyclical nature of things, it's an uptempo tune with a tight feel. The song would reach the Top 40, which made the group's final trip there. Shortly after the LP, Hartman would go on to a solo career, where he was scoring dance hits by the end of the decade.

First Class - "Beach Baby" First Class - Beach Baby (The Original Hit Single) - Beach Baby (The Original Hit Single)

(Debuted #74, Peaked #4, 17 Weeks on chart)

Not a lot of music fans can identify singer Tony Burrows, even though they've likely heard a few of his songs. Perhaps during all of pop history (and definitely during the 1970s), Burrows has sung vocals for more different named groups than anybody else. Though his one Hot 100 entry under his own name (1970's "Melanie Makes Me Smile") didn't do that well, he went Top 10 with such songs as "My Baby Loves Lovin'," "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)," "Gimme Dat Ding" and "United We Stand" under various group names. Burrows added to that total when "Beach Baby" went Top 10 in 1974.

Though "Beach Baby" was an obvious nod to the music of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys (who were then receiving a resurgence with their #1 LP Endless Summer) and mentioning "old L.A." and American cars in the lyrics, Burrows and the other members of First Class were Englishmen. Using a layered production and vocal harmonies, the song was evocative of the seemingly more innocent early 1960s. The nostalgic angle worked, right at a time when people were tuning in to Happy Days on their TV sets and Grease was a huge Broadway hit.

First Class had two more singles reach the Hot 100 and recorded another LP but never again enjoyed the level of success they had with "Beach Baby."

Lobo - "Rings" Lobo - The Best of Lobo - Rings

(Debuted #79, Peaked #43, 9 Weeks on chart)

"Rings" was a debut hit twice this week. The song was originally a #17 hit for the group Cymarron during the summer of 1971 and was deemed worthy of two new versions. Interestingly, the original hit arrived shortly after Lobo's "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" and sounded a little like the Florida-born singer. However, it was written by Eddie Reeves and Alex Harvey. While the song made use of several different uses for the word "rings" (telephone rings, doorbell rings, golden ring, voices ring and wedding bell ring), the main part of the song was written as a result of an early-morning beach house wedding of a friend of the composers ("The sun comes up across the city...We'll stand upon the sand with a preacher man").

Lobo's version of the song isn't as brightly-produced as the original. Instead, he does it in his standard laid-back style that sound like he's just sitting on a stool with his guitar and singing to nobody in particular. One big difference from the original is the way the bell-sounding hook has been dropped in favor of an overmodulated droning jangly guitar. One major line has been changed as well: where the original song made mention about playing James Taylor on the stereo, in Lobo's version The Allman Brothers are now on the turntable.

The Rubettes - "Sugar Baby Love" The Rubettes - The Definitive Love Collection - Sugar Baby Love

(Debuted #81, Peaked #37, 10 Weeks on chart)

A name like The Rubettes might bring to mind an all-girl group, but they were actually an English group made up of male studio singers. With a stage presence that included white coats and cloth hats, the band's first hit "Sugar Baby Love" sounded like an homage to American doo-wop music of the 1950s. According to the story behind the song, writers Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington wrote it as part of a rock & roll "musical" and decided to offer it to several established British acts. After being turned down by several acts including Showaddywaddy, they built a group in the studio that became The Rubettes.

With a falsetto vocal in the chorus and an infectious "bop-shoo-waddy" backing vocal, the song would eke its way into the U.S. Top 40 and hit #1 for 4 weeks in the band's native U.K. It also sold more than two million copies in France and would be a major hit in several European nations. Despite its early success, the group never reached the American pop charts but managed more hits in their home country through the rest of the decade. Two different groups of Rubettes, each with at least one original member of the band, still occasionally tour in England as an oldies act.

Tower of Power - "Don't Change Horses (In the Middle Of the Stream)" Tower Of Power - The Very Best of Tower of Power: The Warner Years - Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of a Stream)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #26, 10 Weeks on chart)

Another great tune from Tower of Power's peak performing years, "Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of the Stream)" was another song that showcased the group's signature horn section buoyed by Lenny Williams. Williams, who was perhaps the band's most powerful singer, co-wrote the song with Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Though Watson wasn't a member of the group, the song does have some of the same cadence he brought to his songs (such as "I Don't Want to Be a Lone Ranger").

Taken from the group's LP Back to Oakland, the song was the follow-up to "Time Will Tell" (reviewed here last April) and whose lyrics were a plea to a lover to stay. In the words, Williams admits to straying but is still hopeful that things can be worked out. Still remembered as one of Tower of Power's better singles, it would be the band's third and final Top 40 hit.

Reuben Howell - "Rings" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #86, Peaked #86, 3 Weeks on chart)

The second remake of "Rings" to appear this week is by Reuben Howell, a blue-eyed soul singer who recorded for Motown. There is precious little information available about Howell except that he passed away in 2004 at the age of 59. "Rings" was Howell's only Hot 100 entry.

As mentioned above with the Lobo version, Howell's is performed in a different style from both of the other charting versions of the song. Howell's rendition is more of a vocal tune, with an understated guitar accompanying him. Of the three versions, Howell's may have the best vocals. It's not quite as pop-infused as Cymarron's original, but doesn't resort to studio tricks and lets the lyrics flow. Finally, Howell's version changes the name of the act on the stereo: Cymarron was spinning James Taylor, Lobo grooved on The Allman Brothers, but Reuben Howell was playing Jim Croce.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

This Week's Review --  July 10, 1976

Though only seven new songs debut this week, some had staying power. Three would go on to make the Top 40, with two of those reaching the Top Ten and one going all the way to #1. Four of the artists were coming off major hits and were looking to capitalize on them. Another act was still riding a formula that had sold them millions of records. Two of the songs have a historical/retro sounds like The Beach Boys stopped by the studio and another tells the story of a drug dealer's downfall. In perfect tune with the season, among the new entries are a song called "Summer" as well as a singer whose last name is Summer.

While many past editions of Billboard magazine are free to read at Google Books, the July 10, 1976 issue is missing from the archive.

Wolfgang's Vault - Bargain Bin

KC & the Sunshine Band - "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty" KC & The Sunshine Band - KC & the Sunshine Band - Part 3... And More - (Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty

(Debuted #79, Peaked #1, 21 Weeks on chart)

Following a similar formula that took "Get Down Tonight" and "That's the Way (I Like it)" to #1, Harry Wayne Casey (KC) and Richard Finch once again went to the well and crafted a song that sounds a lot like both of those tunes. Going for the "hat trick," they notched their third #1 song in just over a year.

In an interview, Finch stated that they were watching the people as they were performing. While dancing to the music, sometimes they'd start bumping their butts together and other times they just shook their tails. That observation led to the lyrics of "Shake Your Booty," while the band's signature sound was able to provide the musical backdrop to the words.

Trivial note: During the 1970s, "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty" is the song with the most repeated word in its title among 1970s #1 hits. Among all the decade's hits, it's only exceeded by ABBA's "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do."

War - "Summer" War - The Very Best of War - Summer

(Debuted #80, Peaked #7, 16 Weeks on chart)

Nothing like a song that evokes a season. And it's even better when that song hits the radio right in the middle of that season. When creating the song, War's producer Jerry Goldstein and several group members would reflect upon the summers of their childhoods, from Goldstein's in Brooklyn to the others' in Los Angeles. The music is laid-back, evoking a time before jobs and responsibilities, when summertime meant school was out and it was time to hang out with friends.

"Summer" was a new track recorded for the band's 1976 Greatest Hits LP. While it's common today for new tracks to be added to "Best-of" compilations as a way of enticing fans to buy a record they would otherwise ignore, but the concept was a little new in 1976. Before that, the sets were usually a collection of singles which sometimes didn't get released in LP form or better-known cuts. However, the rise of the LP meant that acts who released singles from their album releases meant that sometimes fans who already owned all the band's LPs weren't likely to buy the collection if they already had all the songs on it. In War's case, "Summer" became a Top 10 hit and definitely sold some copies of Greatest Hits.

The Bellamy Brothers - "Hell Cat" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #70, 3 Weeks on chart)

The Florida-bred Bellamy Brothers are better remembered today as a successful country act than for their pop hits, despite the fact that their best-known hit "Let Your Love Flow" was a pop #1 and only a moderate country hit. In fact, their country focus really wasn't evident until later in the 1970s. In 1976, they were following up their #1 smash with "Hell Cat," a song that would work today as a country hit but missed that chart entirely as it floundered on the Hot 100.

The "Hell Cat" in the song's lyrics is a lady who's being treated bad at home and ready to prowl. A straightforward tune with the basic guitars, bass and drums, it's a song that shows just how far country music has progressed: it was considered too pop at a time when guys like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson were riding high, but would have fit right in a decade or so later. Ironically, when the country crossover rush kicked into high gear later in the decade, The Bellamy Brothers would become a straight country act rather than feeling the need to straddle both genres the way Kenny Rogers, Eddie Rabbitt and Ronnie Milsap did.

Henry Gross - "Springtime Mama" (Not Available as MP3)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #37, 10 Weeks on chart)

Brooklyn-born Henry Gross was the original guitarist for the retro group Sha Na Na but perhaps best known for "Shannon," a song about a dog that had gone on to The Great Big Meadow in the Sky. "Springtime Mama" was the follow-up to that Top 10 smash and likely earned its Top 40 status to the boost "Shannon" provided. A song that featured Gross's high register voice, playful guitar-and-piano interaction and a doo-wop-style backing chorus that may have reminded listeners of his former bandmates sitting in with The Beach Boys, the song was a nod to his retro sensibilities yet still grounded in the Seventies. It was a nice fit for the audience that was enjoying 1950s reminisces like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Grease.

Steely Dan - "Kid Charlemagne" Steely Dan - The Royal Scam - Kid Charlemagne

(Debuted #87, Peaked #82, 3 Weeks on chart)

While writing these reviews, I write what comes to mind but sometimes find it's hard to know what comes across to readers. If anything, I hope it's evident that I'm a history buff as well as a music fan. Sometimes while giving my point of view of a song, I like to try and place it in the historical context of whatever era led to its creation.While many songs from the 1970s covered things like war, the dark side of politics, social movements, energy issues and other topics of the day, a few tunes appeared that spoke to underlying things that weren't always sunny or easily dealt with. One of those topics was drugs. Although many songs dealing with illicit substances during the 1970s were light and humorous (see Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show) and others were warnings (see James Brown's "King Heroin"), "Kid Charlemagne" is a straightforward narrative that was neither overtly pro- nor anti-drug.

Like many of the characters described in the songs of Steely Dan's LP The Royal Scam, "the protagonist of "Kid Charlemagne" was shady. In this case, he was a drug dealer and chemist known for high-grade stuff. The story begins in San Francisco, where his self-made "kitchen clean" merchandise made him a local celebrity. From the clues given, fans have claimed the song was written about Owsley Stanley or a member of the "merry pranksters" in the Haight scene during the Hippie era, but Steely Dan's lyrics are usually purposely abstract and it's hard to know if it was intended for anybody specific. As the song goes on, his customers slowly leave him -- some are dead, others have "joined the human race" -- and his fortunes are lagging while it seems The Fuzz is watching (but I haven't figured whether that part is merely paranoia). At the end, the dealer is getting rid of his evidence as a bust is nearing and planning his getaway ("Is there gas in the car? Yes, there's gas in the car").

As expected, songs about drugs performed in a serious manner but not as a warning against their effects don't do well on radio. Programmers often avoid them as a way of playing it safe, while parents get nervous about discussing the topic with their kids. Ironically, a country that likes to trumpet its freedom of speech and expression is content to look the other way and hope certain topics just go away by themselves. As it turned out, "Kid Charlemagne" had a very short chart life.

However, there is a bright spot in the song that rises above the lyrics. A terrific guitar solo by studio ace Larry Carlton stands out beginning after the second chorus.

Donna Summer - "Try Me, I Know We Can Make It" Donna Summer - A Love Trilogy - Try Me, I Know We Can Make It

(Debuted #88, Peaked #80, 4 Weeks on chart)

Still trying to follow "Love to Love You Baby" but not yet riding the artistic wave that "I Feel Love" would build, Donna Summer was still seen as a novelty act by pop fans since her one shining moment to that point had been simulating orgasmic moans. Like "Love to Love You Baby," "Try Me, I Know We Can Make it" was a sensual vocal workout set to music. Also like the earlier hit, it covered one side of an LP (nearly 18 minutes, the entire first side of A Love Trilogy) but was condensed considerably for a single release (four minutes, 48 seconds).

Despite dropping off the pop charts quickly and barely reaching the R&B Top 40, "Try Me" would become Summer's second #1 disco hit. Due to disco's reputation as a fad by 1976, Donna Summer's reign as the Queen of Disco at that point made her a one-dimensional artist in the eyes of some listeners who saw many of the acts as faceless voices under a producer's control. While Summer may have been collaborating with Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, she would soon convince many fans that she was a star in her own right.

Bad Company - "Honey Child" Bad Company - Run With the Pack - Honey Child

(Debuted #89, Peaked #59, 6 Weeks on chart)

Formula. That's the best word to use when describing "Honey Child" and its LP Run With the Pack. Take Paul Rodgers's vocals, add Mick Ralphs's gritty lead guitar and back them up with a bass and drums and you have a Bad Company song. Even more to the point, write a song that isn't too stylistically different than one of the group's earlier hits; if fans bought millions of records before, they'll do it again, right?

In the case of "Honey Child," it sounded a lot like "Can't Get Enough." Lyrically, the song had a lot of repetition of the lines "Honey child, don't you know you drive me wild" and its two verses were short indeed: at first, the girl was 17 and too young to mess with, but when she was 21 there was no need to explain anything else. And Paul Rodgers didn't, just repeating the same lyrics over and over again.

Despite only having two chart singles from the album and only seeing one reach the Top 40, Bad Company was still banking on their formula. They recorded their next LP Burnin' Sky while Run With the Pack was still riding the album chart and sat on it for several months before releasing it. The results were disastrous.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

This Week's Review -- July 1, 1978

Seven new singles made their debut on the Billboard Hot 100 this week.  Three of the songs would go on to reach the Top 40 and one would break the Top 10. Two acts would become huge arena draws into the 1980s. Three singers were making their first appearances on the chart, including a man who would become very influential among R&B and funk acts of the early 1980s. One song would be a country smash, while another had an unnecessary disco beat added to it.

Google Books has a large archive of past Billboard editions available to read online, including the issue from July 1, 1978. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 99. Among the industry news reported in the issue is a recap of the first-ever White House jazz festival, attended by President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter and a whole host of Washington names.

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Foreigner - "Hot Blooded" Foreigner - Double Vision (Expanded) - Hot Blooded

(Debuted #52, Peaked #3, 17 Weeks on chart)

A great guitar-based hit at a time when others were adding dance beats and strings to their songs, "Hot Blooded" would have stood out in any era. A throwback to early 70s rock songs like "All Right Now," the song was about something the group's younger male demographic fan base understood well: lust. The lyrics come right out and say it: "You don't have to read my mind to know what I have in mind...I want to know what you're doing after the show" No subtle pickup lines here.

The thing that propels the immediate nature of the song is Mick Jones's guitar. Not only goes the basic riff carry the song, the solo cuts to the chase as well. At a time when other artists were asking the ladies to dance...Foreigner frontman Lou Gramm (asking "Do you do more than dance?") was letting the ladies know that it needed to lead to other things; no time for playing around when you can be fooling around.

Rita Coolidge - "You" Rita Coolidge - Delta Lady - The Rita Coolidge Anthology - You

(Debuted #83, Peaked #25, 12 Weeks on chart)

At a time when many mainstream acts were either deciding to cash in on the disco craze or were being pushed by management and record labels to make some money from the sound, here is Rita Coolidge's entry into the late 70s Disco Derby. The funny thing about the song is that "You" would possibly have worked well as a midtempo number without the disco-influenced hooks that date the song. That's a shame, as Coolidge was well-known for covering many styles of music and had spent many years as a highly sought-after session vocalist due to that skill.

"You" was a straightforward song about how life has been so much better with somebody to share it with. The song was written by Tom Snow, a solo artist during the 1970s and 80s who didn't get much airplay but certainly wrote a lot of hits. Among his songs: Olivia Newton-John's "Deeper Than the Night" and "Make a Move on Me," Barry Manilow's "Somewhere Down the Road," Melissa Manchester's "You Should Hear How He Talks About You," The Pointer Sisters' "He's So Shy" and Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear it For the Boy." He has also lent his skills to many film soundtracks over the years.

Journey - "Anytime" Journey - Infinity - Anytime

(Debuted #85, Peaked #83, 4 Weeks on chart)

After three LPs of jazz fusion experimentation, Journey was at something of a crossroads when they recorded their fourth LP Infinity. Among the moves made to bolster the group's act was the introduction of two new singers named Robert Fleischman and Steve Perry. Fleischman wrote "Anytime" for the album and both singers are heard on the track. However, Fleischman's tenure with the band was short-lived and Perry emerged as the lead singer as the band solidified itself as one of the biggest arena rock acts of the early 1980s.

In a way, "Anytime" sounds like it aspires to be a lighter Boston track, with similarities to "Let Me Take You Home Tonight" before it picks up towards the end to showcase Neal Schon's guitar work. Fleischman's vocal even sounds like Brad Delp's at times. Despite the song's poor showing on the pop charts, it's still played on AOR stations, often right behind "Feeling That Way." On Infinity, the two songs were placed together with very little pause between them.

Rick James - "You And I" Rick James - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Rick James - You and I

(Debuted #86, Peaked #13, 17 Weeks on chart)

After more than a decade trying to make a living in the music business, Rick James became an "overnight" success with his LP Come Get It! His first chart single was "You and I," an audacious and irresistibly funky groove. Nearly making the pop Top 10, the song also went to #3 on the disco chart and #1 R&B. James's style (which he called "punk-funk") was helpful in reinvigorating Motown after a slow decline since their glory days.

"You and I" was an amalgamation of funk, disco and soul with enough pop influences to guarantee its hit status. Clocking in at more than eight minutes on the album, the song was edited for the single but still retained its energy. Creating a party atmosphere with its effusive backing music and its "not-quite-a church choir" female backup vocals. It was both an homage to funk/soul pioneers like Parliament and Earth Wind & Fire as well as a glimpse into the sound James would ride into the next half decade.

Ronnie Milsap - "Only One Love In My Life" Ronnie Milsap - The Essential Ronnie Milsap - Only One Love In My Life

(Debuted #88, Peaked #63, 6 Weeks on chart)

Like Milsap's 1977 hit "What a Difference You've Made in My Life," the lyrics for "Only One Love in My Life" can be interpreted two different ways: as a song of love for a woman or devotion to God.The imagery is quite familiar to gospel fans: "I'm a ship on the open ocean, you're my guiding light," as well as lines about having to climb a mountain and fight adversity. Only at the end of the last chorus does the word "darling" get added to make the distinction clear.

The song was written specifically for Milsap. Watching a country music awards show, R.C. Bannon watched Milsap accept the trophy for Entertainer of the Year with his wife beside him. Moved by his speech giving her credit for helping him navigate his long hard journey, Bannon began writing a song with John Bettis. The result was a minor pop hit but a smash that spent three weeks at #1 on the country chart. In fact, when "Only One Love in My Life" debuted on Billboard's country survey, it was the highest-charting debut single up to that point.

Linda Clifford - "Runaway Love" Linda Clifford - Linda Clifford: Greatest Hits - Runaway Love

(Debuted #89, Peaked #77, 11 Weeks on chart)

Linda Clifford was a native of Brooklyn, a borough of New York City that is often known for its diverse population even if the various groups don't always seem to be in complete harmony with each other. For her first pop hit, that diversity shows up in musical styles. A disco-tinged tune, the song also has some Latin rhythm, a spoken part reminiscent of Millie Jackson and jazz-influenced horns.

The lyrics are a "kiss off" message to a wandering lover. Explaining that his habit of coming and going has worn thin with her, it's time to call the whole thing off and let her find someone who'll be better to her ("Stop messing with my heart if you don't mean it," "Don't go around making jokes about how you're using me...I've got no heartaches to spare"). A seven-minute LP version that was cut down to 3:15 for the single release, the song would miss the pop Top 40 but hit #3 on the R&B chart. The single could have benefited from a longer running time than it received.

Teri DeSario - "Ain't Nothing Gonna Keep Me From You" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #91, Peaked #43, 12 Weeks on chart)

This is one of my picks for 1970s hits that should have been. Though just missing the Top 40, it really deserved the chance to rise higher than it did. Part of its success comes from the fact that it was written by Barry Gibb at a time when everything he and his brothers touched was turning platinum, but a lot of the credit should go to Teri DeSario for her wistful performance. Signed to Casablanca Records, the Miami native was pegged to join Donna Summer as one of the label's disco divas but really wasn't comfortable in that role. After three albums and a #2 duet cover in 1980 of Barbara Mason's "Yes I'm Ready" with her high school acquaintance KC, but she was content to walk away after her contract had ended. She later emerged as a Christian artist, which could have put an entirely different spin on "Ain't Nothing Gonna Keep Me From You."

According to the story behind the song, DeSario had been influenced by jazz and folk and followed those styles as she established herself. One night, a man came into the club where she was singing and introduced himself as The Bee Gees' producer. It seemed while the group was recording in town, Bary Gibb had heard her voice on a demo and wrote a song for her. Whether or not the story is actually true, it makes for good PR.

It's worth pointing out that the song's lyrics can be read two different ways: on one hand, there's the deep love and strong devotion that will help a couple weather any storm that should arise, but another perspective would indicate a frightening stalker situation. Part of the reason the song works is that DeSario gives it her all, and the disco beat behind her makes the song irresistible. Besides, had a man handled the lyrics (like Gibb himself) it would have likely been a little creepy.