Saturday, May 29, 2010

This Week's Review -- May 26, 1973

At first glance, the list doesn't appear to be much. Only six new songs made the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with only one reaching the Top 40. While the one song to make any waves on the Hot 100 was an undeniable classic, some of the others would be memorable in other areas. Two songs were #1 country hits. Another song pointed towards a country sound for an artist who would later hit big in that genre. One would be remade into a Top 5 hit a decade later.

Google books has a large online archive of past editions of Billboard magazine to read online for free. The May 26, 1973 issue is among the ones there. The full Hot 100 list is on page 64. An article beginning on page 1 sheds some light on how well quadraphonic albums were selling, based on a survey of 59 record stores in 21 different markets. At the time, 53 of those stores were actually selling "Q" albums -- some in their own section, others mixed in with stereo LPs -- and were reporting many of their customers didn't really understand the format. It seems the record companies were so quick to roll out the Next Big Thing that little planning was done to inform the consumer, perhaps assuming they'd just figure it out eventually. At the same time, there was no real program to make selling the product easier for records stores. That sure sounds like a recipe for a cluster (you know what). As it turned out, Quadraphonic became a punchline of the decade.

Apple iTunes

Anne Murray - "What About Me"  Anne Murray - What About Me - Hey! What About Me

(Debuted #83, Peaked #64, 8 Weeks on chart)

Back in the days when a disc had two sides playable, Murray's LP Danny's Song had one side of studio recordings and another side recorded live. The version of "What About Me" that ended up as a single was taken from the live portion. Having been the title track of her first Canadian album in 1968, it was never issued as a single until the live version appeared.

Written by Scott McKenzie and recorded at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, "What About Me" shows off Murray's unique pop-styled phrasing. Effortlessly performed, it shows a glimpse into why -- despite other performers of the era like John Denver, Barry Manilow or The Osmond clan -- Anne Murray has a lot of fans but few who vehemently object to her music.

Deep Purple - "Smoke On The Water"  Deep Purple - Machine Head - Smoke On the Water

(Debuted #85, Peaked #4, 16 Weeks on chart)

Just four music notes. That's all that is needed to play "Smoke on the Water"'s distinctive riff. Very simple but quite memorable. While it seems pretty simple, the riff is one of the ways a beginning guitarist feels all that practice is working.

In the classic song, Richie Blackmore starts off with the riff as a solo. Playing it a second time, he is joined one at a time by an organ, drums and Roger Glover's bass before Ian Gillan begins telling the story of how a gig with Frank Zappa and the Mothers on Invention ended up with the place being burned down by a flare gun. The title "Smoke on the Water" refers to the fact that the building on fire was right next to Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Roger Glover is credited with coming up with the title a few days after the incident.

The LP that contained the song, Machine Head, is considered a classic British hard rock LP in the same vein as Black Sabbath's Paranoid and Led Zeppelin's fourth album. And while I have always enjoyed the song, my daughter became a fan of the tune when she was 7 and heard it in the film School of Rock. It's one of the songs she had me put on her MP3 player. Not bad for a song that used to make my own parents yell at me to "turn that down!"

John Denver - "I'd Rather Be A Cowboy"  John Denver - Farewell Andromeda - I'd Rather Be a Cowboy (Lady's Chains)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #62, 10 Weeks on chart)

"I'd Rather Be a Cowboy" was the first song on Denver's LP Farewell Andromeda as well as the first of three singles taken from the album. None of the singles made the Top 40 (but it's worth mentioning that one of the tunes, "Please Daddy" was a Christmas-themed song and few of those did well during the 1970s in any case), but it represents a slip after his success with "Rocky Mountain High." In a way, while it may sound like "I'd Rather Be a Cowboy" may have been geared toward the country artist; however, Denver had not yet been given much exposure to country radio and didn't chart on Billboard's country survey with the song.

The lyrics of the song aren't so much about ropin' & ridin' as much as they are about how he wasn't interested in living in Los Angeles. In the narrative, his woman left but he was willing to let her go as opposed to living in a place that was that foreign to him (calling it "lady's chains" in the chorus). The idea of being a "country boy" and closer to nature was a topic Denver visited frequently in his songs.

Roy Clark - "Come Live With Me"  Roy Clark - The Best of Roy Clark - Come Live With Me

(Debuted #98, Peaked #89, 3 Weeks on chart)

Roy Clark will probably be best remembered as one of the co-hosts of the long-running TV show Hee Haw, which widely and sorely overlooks his talent as a singer and instrumentalist. Throughout the 1970s, Clark was one of country music's most prolific talents -- winning awards for Entertainer of the Year as well as Instrumentalist of the Year -- and was adept at the banjo, mandolin and guitar. Despite being able to showcase those talents on the show, fans tended to focus more on the cornpone humor of the show than on the musical quality on display.

Despite all the awards and accolades, "Come Live With Me" was Clark's only #1 country hit on the Billboard charts. A song of devotion and commitment, it was the type of middle-of-the-road fare Clark specialized in. Written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, the song would also be memorably covered by Ray Charles in 1974.

Tanya Tucker - "What's Your Mama's Name"  Tanya Tucker - Tanya Tucker: 16 Biggest Hits - What's Your Mama's Name Child

(Debuted #99, Peaked #86, 4 Weeks on chart)

I've long been a sucker for songs that tell a story. "What's Your Mama's Name" is a narrative about a man named Buford Wilson. In the first verse, he's a young man just coming into a small town. The second verse finds him habitually drunk ten years later and being sent to jail for asking little girls around town who their mothers were. Finally, when he dies nearly twenty years after that, a letter is found in his possession telling him he had a daughter, which is why he'd been asking. It was another in a string of hit songs by Texas native Tanya Tucker that had the teenager singing about adult topics rather than the "kid stuff" often laid down by Donna Fargo or Barbara Fairchild.

Though not much of a hit on the Hot 100, the song would go on to become a #1 single on Billboard's country chart. At the time, it made 14-year old Tucker the youngest country artist to score a chart-topper. That record was short-lived, however; Marie Osmond's "Paper Roses" would break it later that same year. Fortunately for Tanya Tucker, she would send several more singles to #1 as a teenager and into her thirties.

Slade - "Cum On Feel The Noize"  Slade - Get Yer Boots On - The Best of Slade - Cum On Feel the Noize

(Debuted #100, Peaked #98, 2 Weeks on chart)

I've mentioned here before that I was born in 1972 and grew up during the 1980s. For that reason, my own perspective of this tune will always be colored by the 1983 remake by L.A. heavy metal band Quiet Riot. Being eleven years old when that version became a #5 hit, it was hard to avoid the song. As for the original version of the song, it was far more popular with Slade's English countrymen than it was in the U.S. The song debuted at #1 in the UK (a rare feat then) and stayed on top for four weeks. Even though the remake hasn't exactly aged well over time, it was a fairly loyal (if heavily amplified) take on the original.

Its quick disappearance from the U.S. chart may have been more than just a factor of Slade's lack of Stateside recognition; it may have also had something to do with the spelling of the first word in the title. Although many of Slade's song titles intentionally mangled words to reflect a more phonetic spelling to the point of poking fun at their working-class accents, Americans were obviously prudish about the other meaning of their variation on the word "come." When the Quiet Riot remake was a hit, you can bet my 6th grade chums were giggling about the title. If there's anything really great to say about the 1983 hit, it's the fact that Slade was finally able to get a couple of Top 40 hits in the U.S. soon afterward.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

This Week's Review -- May  21, 1977

An interesting group of debut hits this week. Ten new singles (including one that was returning after an earlier run), five that went Top 40 and one Top 10 hit. Among the artists included are both leads from the film A Star is Born. Surprisingly, one song by Jackson Browne that gets decent airplay today was a poor performer during its chart run. Also seen is an emerging trend that songs were staying on the charts longer: two songs would spend nearly 30 weeks aboard, while one song that missed the Top 40 still spent 14 weeks on the survey.

Google Books has an archive of past issues of Billboard magazine, including the May 21, 1977 edition. The full Hot 100 is on page 76 (but well past the pull-out section that takes up much of the magazine). A story on page 1 shows just how much the record industry had grown by 1977: the Gold standard that once defined hit records had become passe long before that, but even platinum wasn't considered all that impressive with certain artists. Most of the issue, however, is devoted to a celebration of the first 100 years of recorded music that is of interest to anybody who follows the history of popular music and the progress of recorded sound.

Wolfgang's Vault - Bonnie Raitt Memorabilia

Barbra Streisand- "My Heart Belongs to Me" Barbra Streisand - Superman - My Heart Belongs to Me

(Debuted #52, Peaked #4, 17 Weeks on chart)

After "Evergreen (Theme from A Star is Born)" became a smash hit, Barbra Streisand (or more likely, her record company Columbia) didn't try to milk more singles from her successful film. Instead, she followed it up with a tune that was ultimately left out of that film. "My Heart Belongs to Me" was taken from her upcoming Streisand Superman LP and was that album's only hit single. In addition to its #4 peak on the pop chart, the song logged four weeks at #1 on the adult contemporary chart.

Written by Alan Gordon, who also wrote "Happy Together" for The Turtles and Three Dog Night's "Celebrate," the song was a slow, soaring vocal exercise that showed off Streisand's range. Backed by an orchestra and soul-influenced backing singers, it was a tune that showcased her talents nicely. It's also a song where a listener's opinion depends heavily on that person's opinion of the singer herself. Babs' fans generally love it, but those who really don't care for her won't stick around to hear it. It was, in any case, a song more suited for the adult contemporary audience than the disco-mad, hook-hungry pop audience, which is why it was a much bigger hit there.

The Carpenters - "All You Get From Love Is A Love Song"  Carpenters - The Carpenters: The Singles 1969-1981 - All You Get from Love Is a Love Song

(Debuted #77, Peaked #35, 10 Weeks on chart)

Despite declining pop chart fortunes by 1977, The Carpenters were still hitting the adult contemporary charts fairly regularly. While "All You Get from Love is a Love Song" was stopped in the lower reaches of the Top 40, it was a #4 AC hit. The irony of their declining chart fortunes was that the siblings were actually beginning to venture into new territory with their work rather than becoming the predictable act many of their detractors claim they were.

As always, the song spotlighted Karen Carpenter's wonderful voice and backed her and brother Richard up with with top-notch studio musicians. While beginning slowly, the song's chorus is more upbeat than many of the duo's better-known songs. A superb saxophone solo by Tom Scott highlights the "middle eight." The song was included on their LP Passage (which wasn't released until October '77, five months after this single), which sought new directions but ended up becoming their first album to miss becoming Gold. Its other two singles were "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft," an obvious attempt to capitalize on the sci-fi craze that Star Wars ushered in, and "Sweet, Sweet Smile" which was a Top 10 country hit. Those songs had more diversity of sound than any three Carpenters hits, but it didn't seem to help them find a new audience.

Jackson Browne - "The Pretender" Jackson Browne - The Pretender - The Pretender

(Debuted #81, Peaked #58, 5 Weeks on chart)

Jackson Browne spent much of the 1970s as a critical darling but didn't have a great deal of success with the singles charts. That might be because his compositions were more directed to an audience that bought his albums than those who listened to radio, as his LPs sold well. However, during the 1970s Browne's only Top 10 single was "Doctor My Eyes" (reviewed here in March), his first chart single. As for "The Pretender," despite being one of Browne's better-known songs, it failed to make the Top 40.

Most of Browne's early LPs contained a final song that summed up what was going on in his world as he was cutting those records, and that final song from The Pretender was the title song. While the lyrics tell about how Browne is realizing he is growing older and his responsibilities have begun to crowd out the ideals of his youth, it may be a corollary to what many children of the 1960s begun to realize once they quit railing against the Establishment and actually went out into the world: "Caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender" and realizing that it's useless to resist the way it is.

During the recording of the album, Browne's wife committed suicide. Such a tragic event was certain to affect his outlook on life, and at the end of "The Pretender," the protagonist has thrown in the towel: "Say a prayer for the pretender...who started out so young and strong, only to surrender."

Bonnie Raitt - "Runaway" Bonnie Raitt - Sweet Forgiveness (Remastered) - Runaway

(Debuted #84, Peaked #57, 12 Weeks on chart)

Following Jackson Browne is Bonnie Raitt, who joined him not only in the No Nukes concert series of 1979 but the anti-Apartheid song "Sun City" in 1985. Speaking of the No Nukes concerts, Raitt sings "Runaway" in the film taken from their Madison Square Garden show.

While this R&B-infused cover of Del Shannon's 1961 smash was Bonnie Raitt's first chart single, she was no newcomer to the music business. Since 1971, she had been touring and recording but her favored status among critics and other musicians didn't translate into record sales. While Shannon's classic followed the time-honored musical tradition of break-up songs, Raitt's perspective as the female whose man has walked away gives the song a different spin. Ironically, when "Runaway" finally gave Raitt a hit, the ever-fickle critics gave her performance a drubbing. Undaunted, Raitt soldiered on (sometimes in obscurity) through good times and very, very bad ones until her well-deserved breakthrough in 1989.

Bad Company - "Burnin' Sky" Bad Company - Burnin' Sky - Burnin' Sky

(Debuted #86, Peaked #78, 4 Weeks on chart)

After three big albums and 5 Top 40 singles, "Burnin' Sky" was something of a bump in the road for the group. Not only did the LP with that name become the band's first to miss the Top 5 or go platinum, the single would be the group's lowest-charting hit of the 1970s. Perhaps the band recorded it too quickly; once recorded during the Summer of '76, the LP needed to be shelved for several months to avoid impacting their previous set Run With the Pack.

The single "Burnin' Sky" had all of the elements of Bad Company's big hits: Paul Rodgers' distinctive vocal style, Mich Ralphs' guitar phrasing and a steady chug from the drum/bass rhythm section. However, there wasn't the urgency or toughness that marked songs like "Can't Get Enough" or "Feel Like Makin' Love." The band must have paid attention to the results. It would be two more years before their next LP Desolation Angels, which had a retooled sound and added synthesizers and even some strings to the instrument selection.

Kris Kristofferson - "Watch Closely Now" Barbra Streisand & Kris Kristofferson - A Star Is Born - Watch Closely Now

(Debuted #87, Peaked #52, 6 Weeks on chart)

Several months ago, I reviewed Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen" in this blog and mentioned the fact that although Kris Kristofferson made his name as a songwriter, he didn't write any of the songs he performed in the 1976 film A Star is Born. Singing as his character John Norman Howard, "Watch Closely Now" was the first song on the soundtrack LP. For those who haven't watched the film, Kristofferson did a very believable job playing the doomed rock star (it's been rumored that he was in varying states of chemical influence during the filming, so maybe he wasn't exactly acting as much as living out the part), but the song reiterates that Kristofferson was far better as a songwriter than a singer.

However, that may be the point of the song in the film. As John Norman Howard's "theme song" it really doesn't paint a tidy picture of the man. Considering his character in the movie was declining even as he was still a fan favorite, his performances of the song in the movie tend to show how much he's caught up in the excess of his fame. But then still shows that Kristofferson was a better actor than he was a singer.

10cc - "People In Love"  10cc - The Very Best of 10cc - People In Love

(Debuted #89, Peaked #40, 7 Weeks on chart)

When Kevin Godley and Lol Creme left 10cc in 1976 after some acrimony arising from a separate project they were working on, Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman opted to continue the group without them. Even though the British press referred to the new lineup as "5cc," the remaining members felt vindicated when "People in Love" became their second American Top 40 hit after the break (the four-member lineup only had one Top 40 hit, "I'm Not in Love").

While 10cc's earlier work was often noted for its quirky humor and antics, "People in Love" is actually a straight ballad, backed by a string arrangement and containing a very good electric guitar solo by Stewart. Though a refreshing change of pace, it wasn't necessarily essential. Yes it made the Top 40, but that's exactly as far as it went.

Teddy Pendergrass - "I Don't Love You Anymore"  Teddy Pendergrass - Teddy Pendergrass - I Don't Love You Anymore

(Debuted #90, Peaked #41, 14 Weeks on chart )

After spending several years as the voice for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass struck out on his own in 1977. Apparently, Pendergrass suggested naming the group after himself since he was the voice and Melvin didn't exactly agree. His first solo single was "I Don't Love You Anymore," which missed the pop Top 40 but went to #5 on the R&B chart. While Pendergrass was successful on the R&B charts as a solo artist, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes never quite got over his departure.

While "I Don't Love You Anymore" sounds very much like it was recorded with his former band, the fact that Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff (who produced all the Blue Notes' big hits) lent their unique Philadelphia-bred style to the song suggests that the duo hoped fans would realize that Pendergrass wasn't exactly a newcomer. A song about leaving a bad relationship (but still saying he'd "man up" and take care of his obligations...though the listener must decide whether he means alimony, child support or both), the uptempo rhythm helps take some of the sting off the pain. As later singles ventured into soul/Quiet Storm territory, it was clear that the public knew he was one of a kind.

Despite being paralyzed in a 1982 car crash that affected his ability to work the stage the way he did before, he still performed until retiring from the business in 2006. Sadly, Teddy Pendergrass passed away this January.

Stephen Bishop - "On And On"  Stephen Bishop - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Stephen Bishop - On and On

(Debuted #92, Peaked #11, 27 Weeks on chart )

In 1978, there was a skit on Saturday Night Live showing a line of people waiting to get into a disco (though not named, it was modeled after Studio 54). John Belushi played a bouncer keeping people out. At one point, Stephen Bishop comes up and tells him he should be allowed in because he has a hit single. When asked how the song goes, he begins singing the opening lines of "On and On." Suddenly, Belushi says, "yeah, I hate that song" and tosses him out.

"On and On" was a  song that had charted at #93 for a week and then fell off the Billboard Hot 100. Returning for its second chance, it stayed for more than half a year. A song about lovers with broken hearts who go to Jamaica to get away from their pain, the song has its share of imagery: "So he takes a ladder, steals some stars from the sky..." At #11 pop and #2 adult contemporary, it ended up being his biggest hit as a performer.

C.J. and Co. - "Devil's Gun" (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #36, 29 Weeks on chart)

Though the song only managed to reach the lower reaches of the Top 40, it stayed on the Hot 100 for more than half a year. Despite hanging on as long as it did, it only managed to reach the lower part of the Top 40. The longevity on the charts might have been helped by the fact that it had been mixed by Billboard Disco columnist Tom Moulton, but it should be noted that a lot of songs were spending longer on the charts than they had early in the decade. Besides, that would contradict the accusations some have leveled against then-Disco editor Bill Wardlow and his influence on the Hot 100 at that time.

CJ & Co. was a Detroit-based studio group created by Dennis Coffey (who had a hit 1971 with "Scorpio"). Coffey co-produced the group but was not a member, even though the guitar solo on "Devil's Gun" sounds like it could have been his handiwork. A song that builds from a bass/drum foundation to a full-on disco rhythm before the vocals appear, it was a huge dancefloor hit in many countries. In addition to going to 40 pop, the song was a #1 disco hit and #2 R&B. The extended version of the song (the one mixed by Moulton) still sounds great today and doesn't seem to run for more than seven minutes.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

This Week's Review -- May 12, 1979

Only six new singles appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Half of the songs would reach the Top 40, with two making the Top 10 and one going all the way to #1. With disco still in its heyday, four of the songs had a beat.

As for the oncoming disco backlash, The May 12, 1979 issue of Billboard spells out an uncertain future being seen in the music business. While one article explains that sales at a record chain went up during a disco promotion, a few other pieces mention that radio programmers were beginning to be nervous about falling ratings. While the infamous "Disco Demolition Derby" at Chicago's Comiskey Park was still two months away, the writing was being seen on the walls of several radio stations. The full Hot 100 can be found on page 80.

f.y.e. Used CD/DVD Spend over $35 and get $10 OFF Coupon=USED1035A Expires APRIL 30

Earth, Wind and Fire with the Emotions- "Boogie Wonderland" Earth, Wind & Fire - The Essential Earth, Wind & Fire - Boogie Wonderland

(Debuted #69, Peaked #6, 16 Weeks on chart)

As odd as it seems, "Boogie Wonderland" was a duet, only done by two groups. Instead of two singers, there were twelve musicians. EW&F's guiding light Maurice White had previously worked with the three-sister group The Emotions on their 1977 #1 smash "Best of My Love" and enlisted them to help on this song when the group worked on the I Am LP. The song has gained a life of its own, still played often during the years since it was a hit.

For those who think of "Boogie Wonderland" as a happy song about dancing, a quick look at the lyrics shows a much deeper topic. From a man who isn't satisfied with his life to a woman who is seeing her age when she looks in the mirror, the people in the song are going to a place where they can forget their troubles and lose the pain in their life for just a few hours. That pain isn't reflected in the performance, though: the music is vibrant, The Emotions sing in a jubilant manner and Philip Bailey's vocal sounds inspired, building from a more mellow tone into a full-powered assault. It's a case where hearing the song and reading the words show two very different outcomes.

Eddie Money - "Can't Keep A Good Man Down"  Eddie Money - Life for the Taking - Can't Keep a Good Man Down

(Debuted #82, Peaked #63, 5 Weeks on chart)

His story is pretty well-known. In the late 1960s, a Long Island kid named Eddie Mahoney followed in his father's footsteps and joined the New York Police Department. Quickly becoming disillusioned with his job, he left for San Francisco and began a new career as a musician. Calling himself Eddie Money, he sang for a band called The Rockets (not the same band that hit in '79 with the Fleetwood Mac cover "Oh Well"), and one of the songs in their repertoire was "Can't Keep a Good Man Down." After going solo, he would revisit that song.

"Can't Keep a Good Man Down" was the second single from his second LP Life for the Taking, an interesting title for a man who was once a police officer. As a disco-tinged album, the record was an attempt to stay current but likely turned off some of the fans from his harder-edged debut. The irony is that "Can't Keep a Good Man Down" was definitely one of that album's more driven songs. Perhaps if it had been the first single instead of "Maybe I'm a Fool" it may have gotten higher than #63.

Poco - "Heart Of The Night"  Poco - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Poco - Heart of the Night

(Debuted #84, Peaked #20, 14 Weeks on chart)

While Poco is remembered mainly for its country-rock pioneer status and having members like Jim Messina, Rickie Furay and future Eagles Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit, their biggest pop hits came after all those guys had left the band. By 1979, the band on the Legend LP consisted of only one founding member, Rusty Young, and Paul Cotton, who joined in 1970, with a couple of British studio musicians. Initially started as a Young/Cotton project, the group's record company insisted they use the Poco name instead. The result was the group's biggest-selling LP to date and their first two Top 40 hits.

Written and sung by Paul Cotton, "Heart of the Night" was a well-crafted pop song, with added touches of a pedal steel line and a sax solo. The lyrics paint a picture of a New Orleans night, with the moon reflected on Lake Pontchartrain, people still milling around and a nightbird singing. At the end, it's revealed that the scene is merely a dream, but the narrator doesn't want to be awakened from the sweet memories. It's a song that's very underrated by many.

(Here's an interesting tidbit I found out during my research but couldn't fit in the description: The Legend LP cover shown below was designed by future comedian/actor/Saturday Night Live cast member Phil Hartman.)

Carrie Lucas - "Dance With You"  Carrie Lucas - Carrie Lucas: Greatest Hits - Dance With You

(Debuted #86, Peaked #70, 7 Weeks on chart)

"Dance With You" was the second modest chart hit for Los Angeles-based singer Carrie Lucas. It was culled from her LP Carrie Lucas in Danceland, which featured help from fellow SOLAR Records labelmates Jody Watley, The Whispers and Lakeside. While that may sound like her record company was pulling out the stops for her, it should also be mentioned that her producer Dick Griffey was the owner of the company...and Lucas's boyfriend.

That said, "Dance With You" isn't a bad song. It's a standard disco song, quite enjoyable if you happen to like disco music.

Rick James - "Bustin' Out"  Rick James - Rick James: The Ultimate Collection - Bustin' Out

(Debuted #89, Peaked #71, 6 Weeks on chart)

There's a lot of tags that have been given to Rick James. Some are complimentary, while others aren't quite so kind. In a way, his career highs and lows matched the ones his well-documented drug abuse gave him. Despite that, Motown Records was losing its luster in the late 1970s. Many of their hitmakers had moved on to other record companies and the ones who remained (except for Stevie Wonder, who hadn't been releasing new material for a couple of years) weren't living up to their past glory. However, the Wild Man from Buffalo came in and helped make the company edgy again with his own brand of punk-funk.

"Bustin' Out" was an interesting song. An amalgamation of Sly Stone, Earth, Wind & Fire and P-Funk yet a style all his own, he shows his ease in performing different styles in a manner reminiscent of Sly, James Brown or George Clinton. Background ambient vocals makes it sound like the song was recorded at a block party, an appropriate setting for its "let's get out of the constraints of the ordinary" vibe. Of course, it really wouldn't be a Rick James song without some type of reefer reference and there are a few to be found throughout.

Anita Ward - "Ring My Bell" Anita Ward - Ring My Bell - Ring My Bell

(Debuted #90, Peaked #1, 21 Weeks on chart)

It's a good bet that more people remember this song than they do the singer. While the disco era is marked with dozens of songs by nameless and faceless studio acts, some singers had identities as well. Anita Ward is one of them. While "Ring My Bell" has been included on a bunch of disco compilations over the years, Ward hasn't enjoyed many more hits since riding her first hit single to #1.

Written by Frederick Knight (who had his own hit single "I've Been Lonely for So Long" in 1972), the song was originally a teenage ditty intended for Stacy Lattisaw. When that arrangement fell apart, Knight gave it to another singer he'd heard on a demo tape. Anita Ward was 21 years old and had to be persuaded to record it. The words were changed to be more sexually charged, and a pulsating disco beat was developed in the studio for it.

As a #1 song from the disco era, Anita Ward's only big hit is viewed through that prism. Some consider it a good example of a disco song, much more than mediocre but not exactly up to the standards of Donna Summer and Chic. Others can't stand the constant siren effect or else hold it up as an example of all that was wrong about the music. The ironic thing is that Anita Ward wasn't a disco singer and the looming disco backlash very well may have sunk her singing career.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

This Week's Review -- May 8, 1971

This list is a lot longer than many of the ones I've reviewed lately. 14 singles (one of which was a double-sided hit) made their debut on Billboard's Hot 100 this week. Six of those made the Top 40, with three Top 10 hits and one #1 smash. The list of new songs covers a wide variety of musical formats: country, soul, bluesy R&B, Motown soul, glam rock, jazz/rock fusion and Bahamian junkaroo. A breakthrough performance by Carole King, a made-for-TV family act and a few remakes show up among the songs as well.

Google Books has several archived editions of Billboard magazine available to read online for free. The May 8, 1971 issue can be read here. The full Hot 100 is on page 72. Beginning on page 29 are some articles concerning Cartridge TV, a new technology that was supposed to revolutionize the way people watched TV. Think of a video 8-track player and that's essentially what it was. Although the project failed, some of the engineers who developed it would go on to learn from their mistakes and helped usher in the VCR several years later.

SIRIUS|XM Radio $50 Instant Savings on XM Radios w/ 2 YR Plan

Jerry Reed - "When You're Hot, You're Hot" Jerry Reed - The Essential Jerry Reed - When You're Hot, You're Hot

(Debuted #61, Peaked #9, 12 Weeks on chart)

Jerry Reed will be remembered for several reasons. First, he was a top-notch session guitarist. He was a respected songwriter. He was an actor, appearing in movies like Smokey & the Bandit, Gator, The Survivors and The Waterboy. He was also remembered for the humor he brought to many of his songs, including "When You're Hot, You're Hot."

The song tells a story from the narrator's point of view. First, he's playing craps in a back alley with two of his buddies. His hot streak is stopped when a police officer stops by, but when he's taken to the court he realizes the judge is a fishing buddy. Trying to weasel his way out of the charges, he gets tossed in jail ("Ninety days, Jerry!"). As the song fades out, he's still arguing with the judge; his line "what do you mean, contempt of court?" would pop up again at the end of his 1982 hit "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)."

"When You're Hot, You're Hot" would be Reed's biggest crossover hit. In addition to the pop Top 10, it was a #1 country song and #6 on the adult contemporary chart.

The Partridge Family - "I'll Meet You Halfway"  The Partridge Family - Come On Get Happy! The Very Best of the Partridge Family - I'll Meet You Halfway

(Debuted #69, Peaked #9, 9 Weeks on chart)

After The Monkees became a TV phenomenon during the 1960s as a made-for-TV group, it was only a matter of time before another studio executive decided to try a new spin on the idea. Taking an idea from the real-life story of The Cowsills, a show was developed featuring a singing family act. Like The Monkees, The Partridge Family became a legitimate hitmaking music act; however, they didn't eventually play their own instruments. During the group's existence, only Shirley Jones and David Cassidy would appear on the records, as ace studio musicians and singers handled the rest. While their success was short-lived, it inspired their TV "rival" pseudo-family The Brady Bunch to try turning their own kids into a singing group.

As characters from a TV show, the group's LPs were designed as promotional pieces. One was set up to resemble a family photo album (not really a clever pun on the term "album"), another resembled a magazine cover. By the time they began adding a plastic shopping bag to the packaging and placing a crossword puzzle on the cover, the ideas would wear thin pretty quickly.

As for the song "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted," it would be the group's final Top 10 hit. After hitting #1 with their first single, the next five releases managed to fare poorer chartwise than the one before. Though David Cassidy's posters were still hanging on the walls of his teenage adorers and the songs were still getting heavy promotion from being featured in a television show, it seemed radio programmers were beginning to move on to another formula.

James Brown - "I Cried"  James Brown - The Singles, Vol. 7: 1970-1972 - I Cried

(Debuted #71, Peaked #50, 6 Weeks on chart)

When it comes to his 1970s output, James Brown is best known for being a funk pioneer and originator of dance and R&B grooves that remained in the collective conscience through disco and into the work of later acts like Prince and a whole host of hip-hop artists. He has become so famous for his distinctive sound, it's easy for listeners that aren't fans of the departed "Hardest Working Man in Show Business" to remember that he also had a long string of straight R&B weepers going back to the beginning of his career in the mid-1950s. "I Cried" was another one of those songs where Brown slowed it down and proved to his fans that The Godfather of Soul was still in touch with his roots.

1971 was in the middle of a ten-year stretch where James Brown was rarely off the charts. Though he was recording for Polydor, he was still having sides -- including "I Cried" -- released by King, his label since the 1950s. With "I Cried," Brown sings in his best plea, while female singers and sparse accompaniment (a piano here, some horns there) backing him up. While not considered one of his essential songs, it's a  tune that brings a welcome break from the wall-to-wall funky groove that was James Brown's 1970s output.

Chicago - "Lowdown"  Chicago - Chicago III (Remastered) - Lowdown

(Debuted #83, Peaked #35, 8 Weeks on chart)

A few months ago, I reviewed Chicago's song "Free," which came from the same double LP -- Chicago III -- as "Lowdown." In that blog entry, I mentioned how the group's extended LPs were starting to wear thin with fans and their suites filling the entire side of an LP was beginning to be seen as a shtick. As it was, some of the songs on Chicago III were well-crafted and pointed to the band's later pop-oriented direction, but overall the four sides were considered uneven by many.

The second single from Chicago III, "Lowdown" was co-written by the band's drummer Danny Seraphine and singer Peter Cetera. Like "Free," it was more about the music than the lyrics. Essentially a verse and a long instrumental passage and then a refrain of 3/4 of the original lines before the outro, the vocals are handled by Cetera's unique phrasing. Several band members are given the chance to shine here: Robert Lamm gives an electric guitar solo, David Lamm's organ gets to shine and the three-piece brass section led by James Pankow's trombone colors the song as well. Given the band's knack for fusion of many different musical styles, "Lowdown" isn't constrained by rock alone. The song's peak in the lower Top 40 could be attributed to the listening public's wariness of Chicago's style or merely a lack of musical sophistication; it's up to listeners and their opinion of Chicago to determine which.

Carole King - "It's Too Late" Carole King - Tapestry - It's Too Late b/w "I Feel The Earth Move"  Carole King - Tapestry - I Feel the Earth Move

(Debuted #84, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on chart)

One of 1971's biggest music stories was the "comeback" of Carole King. I use quotation marks here because she hadn't really been gone for long. Though she only managed to get a pair of songs on the Billboard Hot 100 during the early 1960s, she was a prolific songwriter for most of the decade in partnership with her husband Gerry Goffin. After the two split in 1968, King decided to give more attention to her singing career. Her first ventures would be as part of groups. The Executives had a minor hit in 1968 with "Windy Day" and her group The City released one failed LP in 1969. A solo LP Writer also fared poorly in 1970.

Her next album Tapestry would become one of the best-selling LPs of the new decade. Spending 15 weeks at #1 on the Album chart, it remains the longest-running long-player on the charts (both for weeks at #1 and for its six-year stay on the Billboard 200) of any female solo record. For many, the first exposure to King's new album was the double-sided hit single featuring "It's Too Late" and "I Feel the Earth Move." Each song had its own personality: "It's Too Late" was a song about a breakup and "I Feel the Earth Move" was more upbeat. When released, "I Feel the Earth Move" was considered the A-side but DJs preferred "It's Too Late," leading Billboard to list it as a two-sided single. Cash Box, on the other hand, listed single sides separately and only listed "It's Too Late" in its own survey. This fact has led to some argument over which song actually was the A-side. Unlike other double-sided #1 singles like  The Guess Who's "American Woman/No Sugar Tonight" and Rod Stewart's "Maggie May/Reason to Believe," the answer here isn't quite so clear-cut.

Ronnie Spector - "Try Some, Buy Some"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #77, 4 Weeks on chart)

"Try Some, Buy Some" would be Ronnie Spector's only hit during the 1970s. Rather than a link between her hits with The Ronettes in the 1960s and her guest vocal on Eddie Money's 1986 hit "Take Me Home Tonight," this hit was part of her short stay at Apple Records (coincidentally, at the same time her then-husband Phil Spector was associated with the label).

The song was written by George Harrison and employed the "Wall of Sound" that Spector pioneered during the 1960s, which certainly made it sound dated. A distinctive part of the sound was a mandolin, an instrument that would surface again on John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" later that year. The song is rumored to feature two or more of the ex-Beatles singing background but the voices are mixed so low it's hard to know for certain. In any case, the orchestral outro is quite reminiscent (sans guitars) of the one The Beatles used in "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" on Abbey Road.

The Supremes - "Nathan Jones"  The Supremes - The Supremes: The '70s Anthology - Nathan Jones

(Debuted #88, Peaked #16, 10 Weeks on chart)

Despite losing Diana Ross to a solo career, The Supremes barely lost a step in moving on without her. With Jean Terrell filling the vacant spot, the group continued hitting the top 40 along with their former lead singer. At this point in 1971, it was still anybody's guess as to whether Diana Ross would outperform the group that made her famous.

Interestingly, "Nathan Jones" broke the mold of the typical Supremes song. Where they usually performed with a lead (either Ross or Terrell but occasionally Mary Wilson) and the other two providing backing vocals, this time all three ladies sang lead in unison. Another thing about the song that stands out is how the music (provided in excellent fashion -- as always -- by The Funk Brothers) seems to experience a phase shift in a few points during the performance. Sung about an old lover who walked out, the song is a declaration that it's time to move on as well.

Clarence Carter - "The Court Room"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #61, 6 Weeks on chart)

While doing research for this song, I happened to notice that when it was released, Clarence Carter was 35 years old. Interesting, as he sounds a lot older than that when he's singing it. Blind since birth, Carter gravitated to music early and grew up on the Blues in his native Alabama.

"The Court Room" was a song filled with small-town intrigue that can only come from a place where everybody knows everybody else. The man on trial is the Reverend Joe Henry, who's being accused of taking advantage of one of his parishioners. With little touches in the lyrics like the way the defense attorney addresses members of the jury about what the reverend has done for them personally, a objection from the audience from the judge's wife and the admonition from the judge that he's about to clear the courtroom, the story is laid out for the listeners until the jury foreman steps forward and divulges the secret that was the reverend's alibi. All through the song, the orchestration gives a very melodramatic mood that makes the song very much a 1970s tune.

T. Rex - "Hot Love"  T. Rex - Electric Warrior (Remastered) - Hot Love

(Debuted #92, Peaked #72, 6 Weeks on chart)

Despite reaching #1 for six weeks in T. Rex's native U.K., the American public wasn't yet ready for the band and "Hot Love" didn't manage to get a lot of airplay on this side of the Atlantic. An early example of glam rock, it was the first single by the group (formerly named Tyrannosaurus Rex) to feature bass and drums. With lyrics full of innuendo and catchy vocal hooks, the song was one of those singles that could have been a bigger hit if it had been issued at a different time. In the case of "Hot Love," it may have done very well had it been released after their U.S. breakthrough hit "Bang a Gong (Get it On)." It definitely would have fared well once David Bowie, Mott the Hoople and other glam acts were also scoring hit singles.

The Main Ingredient - "Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling In Love)"  The Main Ingredient - Everybody Plays the Fool: The Best of the Main Ingredient - Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling In Love)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #52, 9 Weeks on chart)

At the time they released "Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling in Love)," The Main Ingredient were still looking for their breakthrough hit. After forming in 1964, the trio of Donald McPherson, Luther Simmons and Tony Silvester went through several name changes before settling on their permanent billing by 1968. Some low-charting hits would follow, but by 1971 they hadn't managed to crack the pop Top 40. While "Spinning Around" would become their first R&B Top 10 hit, it didn't fare as well on the Hot 100. As a soft R&B jam that wasn't out of step with some of the era's hits, it may have had a chance if the trio had been better known.

Sadly, tragedy was ahead. As "Spinning Around" was riding the charts, McPherson suddenly fell ill. Finding out he had leukemia, he lost the battle very quickly and passed away on July 3. He was only six days short of his 30th birthday. His replacement, Cuba Gooding, would be in place when The Main Ingredient finally made the pop Top 40 in 1972.

The Beginning of the End - "Funky Nassau (Part 1)" The Beginning Of The End - Funky Nassau - Funky Nassau, Pt. 1

(Debuted #94, Peaked #15, 14 Weeks on chart )

The Beginning of the End was a group from The Bahamas that consisted of three brothers and a fourth member on bass. Their only hit on Billboard's Hot 100 was a lyrical ode to their home city. From its junkaroo beat to its island brass parts mixed with American funk, its description of "mini-skirts, maxi-skirtsand Afro hairdos,"the song extolled the virtues of the group's Bahamian base.

A surprise hit, it reached the top 15 on both the pop and R&B charts. It was a success for Henry Stone during his days at Atlantic Records, and the money he earned helped him start up TK Records in Miami shortly thereafter.

Johnny Rivers - "Sea Cruise"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #98, Peaked #84, 4 Weeks on chart)

While many people know "Sea Cruise" as a 1959 Frankie Ford hit, it was originally written and performed by New Orleans R&B legend Huey "Piano" Smith. New York-born, Louisiana-reared Johnny Rivers would be one of the many artists to cover the song but wasn't able to get very far up the charts with it. Rivers had handled a bunch of cover songs throughout his singing career and his formative years in Baton Rouge made him respectful of the New Orleans scene.

Rivers' version of the song was very faitful to the more familiar hit version, but with a noticeable rhythm guitar that sounded like John Fogerty stopped by during the session. The following year, Rivers would cover another Huey "Piano" Smith song -- "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu" -- and would enjoy his biggest hit in years.

Bobby Goldsboro - "And I Love You So"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #83, 6 Weeks on chart)

When Bobby Goldsboro released "And I Love You So" as a single, few listeners had ever heard of its songwriter Don McLean. While it wouldn't be long before "American Pie" remedied that problem, the original recording was part of McLean's critically lauded but weak-selling debut 1970 LP Tapestry. While Goldsboro performed the song with the same sound and style that helped him take "Honey" to #1 in 1968, it didn't help him get very far this time around. As for "And I Love You So," the song would finally become a hit in 1973 when Perry Como cut it.

Although the song has become a sentimental favorite for some couples, it comes off as a pedestrian Bobby Goldsboro effort. Compared to McLean's original, it comes across as less authentic

The Three Degrees - "There's So Much Love All Around Me"  (Not available as MP3)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #98, 2 Weeks on chart)

 Coming from Philadelphia, The Three Degrees are well-known for a couple of classic songs in the Philly Soul format, "When Will I See You Again" and their appearance on MFSB's "TSOP" (a song used as the theme to Soul Train). However, "There's So Much Love All Around Me" was songs from their days at Roulette Records and the lush orchestration you'd expect isn't there. Instead, the most prevalent instrument backing up the ladies' three-part vocals is an organ, with a brass section chiming in somewhere in the middle of the song.

While it's not a bad song, it really doesn't rise above their later work (or even their earlier hit "Maybe"), so their quick exit from the charts after two weeks isn't a big surprise.