I had to put in some overtime this week. Normally, I feature 7-10 songs each week, but this was one of the weeks that featured a large number of debut singles on the Billboard Hot 100. There were 15 new singles, seven which made the Top 40. Three would go on to reach the Top 10 and one which hit #1. It's another cross-section of 1971's music: several R&B records made the list, but so did a Who classic, a "solo" song by a member of The Partridge Family, a song that melded together three Civil War-era tunes, a return to Burt Bacharach-penned songs for B.J. Thomas, a song that wouldn't get high on the pop chart but later had a cover version that scored nicely on the country chart, a song that still showed John Denver's more folkish side, and contrasting sounds from two of Motown's biggest artists.
Each week, I mention the Google Books archive of past Billboard issues when they're available. The November 6, 1971 edition can be found here. The full Hot 100 is on page 62. An article on page 18 has Wink Martindale (then a DJ at KPMC in Los Angeles) reflecting on 20 years in the radio business. Page 43 begins a pull-out section called "Rock Now" that is actually very good if you're a person who gets into the history of rock. It's an interesting read.
Sly and the Family Stone - "Family Affair"
(Debuted #50, Peaked #1, 14 Weeks on chart)
For Sly and the Family Stone, 1970 began with a double-sided #1 single. The public was digging the group's vibe of togetherness, and the band's popularity was evident when the Woodstock film appeared in theaters later that year. However, the group wasn't getting new material out to capitalize on the moment, so Epic records released "I Want to Take You Higher," a 1968 song that had been a B-side to their hit "Stand!" While all this was happening, Sly was living in Los Angeles, hanging out with radicals and sinking deeper into a drug-induced paranoia. When he finally showed up with a new record late in 1971, it assured everybody that the 1960s were definitely over and that Sly was no longer just "Everyday People."
After the hit singles preaching brotherhood and understanding, "Family Affair" was a different direction altogether. Beginning with its downbeat rhythm and a tired-sounding vocal, Sly sings about the bood and bad aspects of belonging to family, with only his sister Rose backing him up. In a way, maybe he was also explaining that the Family Stone was having some issues as well, as the single didn't feature any of the other members of the group. Bobby Womack provided the guitar parts and Billy Preston handled the keyboards. Sly played the bass line and programmed a ryhtym box for the percussion. Drum machines would be fairly common on 1980s hits, but "Family Affair" was the first #1 single to ever feature them.
The Stylistics - "You Are Everything"
(Debuted #76, Peaked #9, 16 Weeks on chart)
This lush ballad was the first Top 10 song enjoyed by one of the definitive 70's Philly Soul groups. All the hallmarks of the sound are there, from the orchestration, the smooth backing singers and the velvet production. There are some added touches that set this song apart from the other Philly Soul giants of the era like The Spinners and the O'Jays: first and foremost, the distinctive vocal talents of Russell Tompkins, Jr., a sitar added to the instrumentation, and the fact that the band actually hailed from Philadelphia.
"You Are Everything" was one of many Stylistics hits written by producer Thom Bell and songwriting partner Linda Creed. The song's lyrics have a "peace, love and understanding" hippie-era vibe to them. That (and perhaps the sitar) make the song a little more dated than some of their other hit singles, but a couple of things save it. First, the group's harmonies are probably more noticeable than they were once Tompkins was made the focal point of the group. Second, the studio sheen makes it quite regal. It has one of those sounds that is hard to let go of once it's gotten into your head.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how R&B songs often paid more attention to relationships, while pop songs are often more about the high that a new love produces. This song proves the point. it's a love song, and it performed better on the pop chart (#9) than the R&B survey (#10).
Mickey Newbury - "An American Trilogy" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #84, Peaked #26, 11 Weeks on chart)
Though he didn't get a lot of hit singles, Mickey Newbury had a great deal of influence. His expressive style was an influence on Kris Kristofferson, and his tendency to break free of regular songwriting conventions makes him an early member of the "Outlaw" country movement of the 1970s; Waylon Jennings' 1976 song "Luchenback, Texas" even has his name in the line "between Hank Williams' pain songs and Newbury's train songs..."
Ironically, his best-known song was one he didn't write, but arranged as a medley of songs from the late 1800s. "Dixie" was a song that became the unofficial anthem of the Confederate States during the Civil War. Ironically, it was begun as a blackface minstrel song whose lyrics were ostensibly by a freed slave. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was a song that was identified with the Union Army. The words were written by Julia Ward Howe during the war but the melody was known before the conflict. "All My Trials" began as a Bahamian lullaby whose words were from a mother on her deathbed. While often used as a spiritual, it was adopted by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and '60s. In using the three songs as a medley, Newbury managed to take tunes identified with both sides from the American Civil War and merge them with a song from a movement that rose from the unresolved issues of that war a century after it ended.
While Newbury had his only Top 40 hit with "An American Trilogy" the version is better known by an artist whose own take missed the Top 40 altogether: Elvis Presley. However, Presley's version features a reprise with a very powerful vocal, while Newbury's version fades out instead.
The Temptations - "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)"
(Debuted #85, Peaked #18, 10 Weeks on chart)
While picking out the YouTube video I was going to feature on this entry, there was no way I could deny Don Cornelius. Even though the Temptations' performance is cut short, a Soul Train clip will win out over a fan-made video showing a CD cover every time.
"Superstar" is a song that is a solid part of The Temptations' "Psychedelic Soul" sound. After becoming one of the definitive male vocal groups of the 1960s, the group endured the loss of singers David Ruffin and later Eddie Kendricks (who are often pointed to as possible reasons for this song) and moved in a new direction under the tutelage of producer/writer Norman Whitfield. "Superstar" is a good example of what their new sound was.
Showcasing the vocal talents of the various members together and separately and backed up by Motown's unheralded house band The Funk Brothers, the song is a warning not to let ego take away from the things success brings. Damon Harris sings the high parts, Melvin Franklin gets his low notes, and Dennis Edwards is in his familiar spot doing lead vocals. The song begs for a longer version, but fades out just before the three-minute mark. Unfortunately, the LP version didn't allow the group to expand on the theme in the single.
B.J. Thomas - "Long Ago Tomorrow" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #86, Peaked #61, 7 Weeks on chart)
Video above says "In My Dreams" but that's incorrect. Perhaps the person who recorded it simply guessed which of B.J. Thomas's lyrics would give up the name of the song. While the audio quality in the video above sems to be off, it's similar to the way he performs the single. He starts off soft and slow, then shows off his range in the chorus. It's really not necessary for him to prove he has a strong voice, but the low/high mix in the song is a little unsettling. That's probably a technical complaint that should be addressed to the producer of the song, but I said it anyway.
"Long Ago Tomorrow" was written by Burt Bacharach, who also penned Thomas's #1 smash "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head." Perhaps Thomas (or his record company) felt that going back to the well that produced his biggest hit would bring more of that success, but that didn't happen. It would be the first of his singles of the 1970s to miss the pop Top 40, and also to miss the adult contemporary Top 10.
David Cassidy - "Cherish"
(Debuted #87, Peaked #9, 12 Weeks on chart)
With his first "solo" single, the singer who also played Keith Partridge did a remake of a song The Association took to #1 in 1966. Written by Terry Kirkman, a member of The Association, it has a different feel as a solo performance than the multi-part harmonies that marked the earlier hit. Of course, as a song that spoke of devotion, it wasn't a bad choice for a single singer to handle.
While it's not terrible, it really sounds like a Partridge Family recording without Shirley Jones. And why not? Cassidy likely had the same backup singers and studio professionals who handled the group's records as well.
Steppenwolf - "For Ladies Only"
(Debuted #88, Peaked #64, 7 Weeks on chart)
Steppenwolf is best known among music fans for their big 1960s hits "Born to Be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride," as well as the use of two of their songs ("Born to Be Wild," again and "The Pusher") in the film Easy Rider. While those were the band's highlights, they had more hits and earned several gold albums that have been largely forgotten.
In 1971, they released their sixth LP For Ladies Only, which was intended to be a concept album focusing on feminist issues. However, an all-male rock band trying to focus on feminism doesn't always play well. Critics deemed it sexist and a picture in the album's gatefold of a vehicle shaped like male genitalia didn't help matters. It would be the band's first LP to miss Billboard's Top 40 album chart and their first to fail earning gold record status. They broke up shortly afterward.
"For Ladies Only" was the first track on the album and ran more than nine minutes. For single release, it was cut down to a more radio-friendly running time.
Diana Ross - "I'm Still Waiting"
(Debuted #89, Peaked #63, 5 Weeks on chart)
"I'm Still Waiting" was the first single from Everything is Everything, Diana Ross's second album after leaving The Supremes. Among her solo singles in the U.S., it's largely been forgotten despite being a fine performance. However, it would be her first #1 hit in the U.K., spending four weeks atop the chart there.
With both The Temptations and Diana Ross making their debuts in this week's Billboard Hot 100, the perfect opportunity to showcase Motown's state of affairs in 1971 exists in the two songs. While The Temptations were covering much of the same ground they'd been treading sing 1968's "Cloud Nine," they were still recording in Detroit and using The Funk Brothers. Instead, Motown was trying to turn Diana Ross into its resident songbird, featuring L.A. session musicians. At the time, Berry Gordy was in transition, moving his label to Los Angeles. In a way, the two songs were pointing to the record company's future. While some (including Gordy) hoped the more adult sound would keep the company important, the shift to the West Coast was one of many things that were problematic to what had been a great story.
John Denver - "Friends With You"
(Debuted #90, Peaked #47, 11 Weeks on chart)
Today, music fans have a pretty good idea of what John Denver's music sounds like. He amassed a fairly large body of work in the 1970s alone. However, when his LP Aerie came out in early 1972, he really had only one hit: the surprise "Country Roads (Take Me Home)." His music was still based in the more folkish sound he had honed with the Chad Mitchell Trio during the 1960s. The first single from Aerie was "Friends With You," a song written by frequent collaborator Bill Danoff (he sung background on "Country Roads" and later was part of The Starland Vocal Band).
"Friends With You" isn't one of Denver's more memorable hits, but it's worth listening to. It features some interesting arrangements, with a harpsichord marking time at the beginning, before breaking out in the obligatory backing chorus that seems to accompany these "let's be friends" type songs. The refrain sounds a lot like Lou Christie's 1969 hit "I'm Gonna Make You Mine," however.
Savoy Brown - "Tell Mama"
(Debuted #91, Peaked #83, 6 Weeks on chart)
Savoy Brown was a blues-influenced British rock band formed in 1966 and still active today. Over the years, the only constant in the ever-changing band has been singer/guitarist Kim Simmonds. While they were quite popular with fans and critics, "Tell Mama" was the only Hot 100 hit they managed to score during the 1970s.
The band's revolving door of membership was just underway when they recorded the LP Street Corner Talking. Three members left the group to form Foghat, which left Simmonds as the only original member to carry on Savoy Brown. He recruited a new band and forged a new sound, and "Tell Mama" was part of the result.
The Who - "Behind Blue Eyes"
(Debuted #93, Peaked #34, 11 Weeks on chart)
Back when I was a teenager, I "discovered" the Who's Next LP. While its cover showing the members walking away from a concrete structure after urinating on it was something that didn't escape my notice, the music inside felt as if it were speaking to me. Nothing on that album spoke to me more than "Behind Blue Eyes" did. At the time, I was not yet cynical enough to really understand "Won't Get Fooled Again" and while I was quite fond of the sonic mayhem of "Baba O'Reilly" and its "Teenage Wasteland" bit, it was "Behind Blue Eyes" that appealed to me right when I was 15, still developing my own sense of purpose and wishing more people could look beyond the kid and see the person I was developing into.
There's something about a song that makes you scream, "holy cow, that's me!" when you hear it. Originally intended for the Who's aborted "Lifehouse" rock opera, the song was set to introduce the angst-ridden young man who served as the main character. Beginning with a slow lament that nobody understands him, the song builds into an undeniable rock anthem before a short reprise of the first part bering the song to an end. That mixture of eagerness and longing, mixed with a really loud guitar, is a great way to appeal to a 15 year-old know-it-all who is caught between childhood and adulthood and feeling trapped in the position.
The Emotions - "Show Me How"
(Debuted #97, Peaked #96, 3 Weeks on chart)
"Show Me How" was the first pop hit of the 1970s for a Chicago-based group originally made up of three sisters. Janet, Sheila and Jeanette Hutchinson had reached the lower reaches of the Top 40 with "So I Can Love You" in 1969 and enjoyed a few R&B hits as well. However, in 1970 Jeanette left the group to get married and raise a family. She was replaced by family friend Theresa Davis, who lent her voice to "Show Me How."
The song was a track from Untouched, the group's final LP on the Volt/Stax label. Like many Stax albums, it was produced by Isaac Hayes and David Porter and featured the label's house band. The ladies' three voices are showcased adequately and are backed by strings and an understated brass section.
"Show Me How" had a short stay on the Hot 100, but would return in December for a more successful run.
Bullet - "White Lies, Blue Eyes" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #98, Peaked #28, 13 Weeks on chart)
This is the second "Blue Eyes" song to debut this week.
The YouTube video above comes from Music Mike, who's been featured on this blog before. Like he says in his introduction, there is a bunch of conflicting information out there about the band, because there was more than one group called Bullet. It looks like someone claiming to be a member placed a comment on Music Mike's page; perhaps he'll end up getting some more information about the group soon. However, it's clear that this Bullet was a group from Brooklyn, New York and not a band made up of former members from the British band Atomic Rooster.
"White Lies, Blue Eyes" was featured in the 25-disc Rhino compilation Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day, and Paul Grein's liner notes even avoid mentioning a single thing about the group except to talk about the followup single "Willpower Weak, Temptation Strong" that would be their only other chart hit.
"White Lies" sounds a little dated by its 70s-era production, but it's a good, catchy pop tune. It had some nice brass flourishes, a neat little guitar solo and some vocal harmonies that may not have been perfect, but they still managed to lodge a tune into the deep recesses of the mind.
Joe South - "Fool Me"
(Debuted #99, Peaked #78, 7 Weeks on chart)
Joe South had a fairly short career as a hitmaker, but had been a session player in Memphis and Muscle Shoals for a decade before his breakthrough hit "Games People Play." Among the songs that featured his guitar: "Chain of Fools," "Sheila" and "The Sounds of Silence." Aside from his own hit singles, he also wrote songs like "Down in the Boondocks," "Hush," "Rose Garden" and "Yo Yo."
"Fool Me" would be South's final Hot 100 single. He went into retirement after his brother committed suicide, which led to a deep depression and a reclusive period. It's a shame, since he obviously had a great songwriting talent.
With lyrics saying that a lover can lie and get away with it, it featured the signature Joe South guitar jangle. It's a little more complex than the typical love song that filled the pop charts at the time, which partially explains why in never managed to get too far up the Hot 100. It was probably more suited as a country song, and Lynn Anderson proved that in 1972. Her version translated well from a female perspective, and went to #4 on the country chart.
The Chi-Lites - "I Want To Pay You Back (For Loving Me)"
(Debuted #100, Peaked #100, 1 Week on chart)
Written and sung by Eugene Record, "I Want to Pay You Back (For Loving Me)" was a track from the group's (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People LP. Although it only spent one week at #100, it managed to return to the Hot 100 a few weeks later.
A sweet ballad (and I do mean syrupy sweet, with lines like "I'm gonna give you a five-pound box of love with a million-dollar bill on top") that expressed gratitude for a woman's love, the song was a great example of the Chi-Lites' vocal harmonies in addition to Record's phrasing.
Though the song didn't ultimately fare well, it wasn't very long before they were known outside their Chicago-centered fan base. The Chi-Lites hit a groove immediately afterward, with the twin hits "Have You Seen Her" and "Oh Girl."