There were ten singles debuting in this week's Billboard Hot 100. Three of those would go on to reach the Top 40 and one made it as high as the Top 10. The biggest hit was another smash from Three Dog Night that was written by the same person who'd just handed them their biggest hit single. Wilson Pickett reaches the Top 40 with a song that exemplified his style, and Led Zeppelin offer a unique start/stop rhythm to their song. The songs that missed the Top 40 come for some long-established artists such as Ray Charles, Rufus Thomas and the Bar-Kays, as well as early hits from Alice Cooper and The Ohio Players. A hidden gem from The Persuaders shows up, as well as a song that helped spread the "gospel" of Jesus Christ Superstar.
There is an archive of past Billboard issues over at Google Books, and the December 25, 1971 edition is among them. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 58. An editorial article on page 3 has a few short words regarding the recently deceased David Sarnoff. In what may be one of the first mentions about him in the magazine, Billy Joel complains in an article on page 14 about how hard it is to find a good piano while touring. On page 28, the spokesmen for Admiral are announcing that their engineers have picked 8-track over cassette for which tape format to offer to consumers. The issue also contains a special section naming the top singers and songs of the year.
Led Zeppelin - "Black Dog"
(Debuted #67, Peaked #15, 12 Weeks on chart)
What do you call the LP that is led off by "Black Dog"? Many call it Led Zeppelin IV, but it has also been called Four Symbols, Runes, "Zoso," Untitled or "the fourth album." The album was issued without a name, so fans (and the band's record company) have had to use their own devices over the years when it comes to giving it a name. Whatever it's called, it's the band's best-known album and their biggest seller, and it's not solely due to the fact that "Stairway to Heaven" is included; it's a solid rock collection.
"Black Dog" is one of those songs where the title doesn't appear at all in the lyrics, but that is probably for the best, as the words are an expression of lustful desire. The idea for the song came from Muddy Waters' "Electric Mud," which inspired John Paul Jones to come up with a rolling bass part. As for the start-and-stop lyrics before Jimmy Page's guitar assaults that are probably the most memorable part of the tune, that inspiration was from Fleetwood Mac's 1969 song "Oh Well."
Wilson Pickett - "Fire And Water"
(Debuted #79, Peaked #24, 11 Weeks on chart)
Once again, I'm a sucker for Soul Train footage when it comes to picking out the video footage that accompanies these posts.
One of Wilson Pickett's talents was an innate ability to take songs from other genres and adapt them to his own style. In many cases, he chose material that many soul artists might not have dared to try. In case of "Fire and Water," he took a song that was originated by the English rock group Free and made it his own.
He had some help, of course...Dennis Coffey contributed the guitar and the Memphis Horns were there to add some of their own color to the song. A clavinet is also a major instrument in the mix, but it's Pickett's powerful voice that binds it all together. "Fire and Water" was the lead track on his Don't Knock My Love LP, the last one he recorded for Atlantic.
Three Dog Night - "Never Been To Spain"
(Debuted #81, Peaked #5, 12 Weeks on chart)
Three Dog Night was well-known for getting its hit material from top-notch songwriters. In the case of "Never Been to Spain," the writer was Hoyt Axton, who also penned their monster hit "Joy to the World" earlier in the year. The song mentioned seemingly random geographic references (Spain, England, Oklahoma, but "not Arizona," Las Vegas) played out as if it were the ramblings of a wayward drifter. At the same time, Cory Wells keeps raising the tenor of his voice. At the beginning of the song, he's singing in a whisper, but by the end of the song he's giving it all he has.
Ray Charles - "What Am I Living For"
(Debuted #87, Peaked #71, 7 Weeks on chart)
Once again, Ray Charles takes a song that was already familiar and gives it his own interpretation. "What Am I Living For" was written by Jay Harris and was a #1 R&B hit for Chuck Willis in 1958. It became a standard over the years, cut not only by soul artists like Chuck Jackson and Solomon Burke, but also by country artists Ernest Tubb and Conway Twitty. The country style is evident in Brother Ray's version, as it starts with the notes of a steel guitar.
That said, Charles' take on "What Am I Living For" was not sung as a country song. Country serves as one of his many influences, as he delivers the lines as only he knew how.
Alice Cooper - "Under My Wheels"
(Debuted #88, Peaked #59, 8 Weeks on chart)
At the time "Under My Wheels" was a hit, the name "Alice Cooper" was still associated with the band that performed it as much as the singer. In this entry, I'm referring to the band.
"Under My Wheels" was the song that led off the LP Killer, which was a collection that pointed toward Alice Cooper's future musical direction. Written by three of the members of the group (rhythm guitarist Michael Bruce, bass player Dennis Dunaway and keyboardist Bob Ezrin), it has become a concert staple over the years.
The Bar-Kays - "Son Of Shaft"
(Debuted #92, Peaked #53, 10 Weeks on chart)
Just as the movie Frankenstein was swiftly followed by The Bride of Frankenstein and The Son of Frankenstein in the wake of its success, it was little surprise to see "Son of Shaft" show up so soon after Isaac Hayes took his Shaft film score to #1 on both the singles and album charts.
Like the original and more familiar "Theme From Shaft," "Son of Shaft" features a lengthy instrumental part, a solid funk backbone and the retort "Shut your mouth" to prevent the utterance of a radio-unfriendly obscenity.
The video above comes from the the film Wattstax. That was a concert festival held in the summer of 1972, where various artists from the Stax family performed at the Los Angeles Coliseum. In order to get as many people as possible to attend, tickets were sold for one dollar.
The Persuaders - "Love Gonna Pack Up (And Walk Out)"
(Debuted #96, Peaked #64, 10 Weeks on chart)
The Persuaders' best songs have been remade into big hits, but "Love Gonna Pack Up" seems to have been overlooked by "Thin Line Between Love and Hate" and "Some Guys Have All the Luck." However, "Love Gonna Pack Up" is a song that deserved a wider audience than it eventually had.
Despite having a similar rhythm and topic that was used on "Thin Line Between Love and Hate," there is a tremendous groove that drives "Love Gonna Pack Up." A fuzz guitar punctuates the lyric's warnings that a relationship requires a lot of work and can fracture without both people giving it their all. Rather than a song about dealing with a split, it's a reminder that one can happen when regular care isn't taken to keep it alive. It deserves a listen if you've never heard it.
Rufus Thomas - "Do The Funky Penguin (Part 1)"
(Debuted #97, Peaked #44, 10 Weeks on chart)
After a long career performing soul and blues and drawing from his Vaudeville background to keep audiences entertained, Rufus Thomas was letting the funk take the wheel in many of his early 1970s songs. One of those tunes was "Do the Funky Penguin," and sequel of sorts to his 1969 hit "Do the Funky Chicken."
The guitar effects in the song that give it much of its bite come from Charles Pitts. As a longtime member of the Stax lineup, Thomas was able to get some of the tightest musicians in Memphis to play on his records, and it sounds like they had a great time laying it down in the studio.
The Ohio Players - "Pain (Part 1)"
(Debuted #99, Peaked #64, 8 Weeks on chart)
For many casual listeners, The Ohio Players' pre-Mercury recordings (aside from "Funky Worm," possibly) have been largely overlooked. What is better remembered from the group, though...is their racy LP covers. Where their Mercury albums often looked like they were remainders from a Penthouse shoot, their Westbound LPs went with an S&M angle. That's not really surprising once you see that those LPs were called Pain, Pleasure and Ecstasy.
The first of those LPs was Pain, which marked a transition from the Southern-style hard-edged soul they were performing in the 1960s to a more experimental sound that incorporated jazz, blues and psychedelia. It wasn't yet the funky stuff that would fuel their biggest hits later in the decade, but they were finding their way to that point. The song "Pain" was an example of this, with its freeform horn solo and a guitar workout that goes off on their own jazzy tangents, as well as a flute that could have been right at home on a Herbie Mann track.
The Assembled Multitude - "Medley From Superstar (A Rock Opera)" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #100, Peaked #100, 1 Week on chart)
This was a second chance for "Medley From Superstar," after it managed to spend a single week at #95 back in February before dropping off the chart. Unfortunately, it would also spend only a single week on the chart before falling off for good.
The Assembled Multitude was an instrumental ensemble based in Philadelphia. Some of the members would go on to work in the various orchestras behind Thom Bell, Gamble & Huff and what would be called the "Philly Sound." With "Medley From Superstar," they performed an instrumental medley of songs from Jesus Christ Superstar, similar to what they did with Tommy. However, this time the result didn't climb its way very far up the chart; instead, Murray Head's performance of "Superstar" became the hit version (albeit on its third chart run).