Ten new singles made their first appearance on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Half went into the Top 40, with three Tops 10 hits and two that went to #1. One of those chart-toppers featured the first Swedish act to achieve the feat, while the other was one of six that Elton John had during the decade. One song was a #1 country hit, while another used a country sound. Some soul singles are here as well, including one that Gladys Knight had tremendous crossover success with. A song about oil troubles shows that some topics really do come back around if you wait long enough. Lastly, two of the songs would go on to gain a new audience several years later when they were used in movies.
Google Books includes an archive of past Billboard issues, and the February 16, 1974 edition is among them. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 56. An article on Page 3 mentions a growing trend of songs crossing over between the pop, country and adult charts. The "sameness" among different charts may have been leading some to ask why they bothered having different charts in the first place. Finally, there's a certain perverse pleasure in seeing that complaints of bootleggers selling duplicated tape recordings appears in the same section touting the ease of modern tape duplication methods.
Elton John - "Bennie And The Jets"
(Debuted #69, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)
The video above shows Elton John performing "Bennie & the Jets" on Soul Train. While he may not immediately come to mind as an R&B artist, he did manage to reach the #1 position on that chart as well as the pop survey.
I frequently have moments where I just say, "what the hell is that supposed to mean?" when I listen to Elton John's hits, particularly those whose lyrics were written by his collaborator Bernie Taupin. In the case of "Bennie and the Jets," it seems I misheard an awful lot of the words when I was younger and they sounded like gibberish to me.
"Bennie and the Jets" was recorded with "audience" effects to make it sound like it was recorded live, but it was a studio effect. Though part of the LP Goodbye Yellow Brick Road -- arguably the best record he ever released -- it's probably better known as a hit single. Though becoming a #1 single in the U.S. and Canada, the song interestingly wasn't very popular in Elton's home country, reaching #38 in the U.K. when few paid much attention below #30.
Gladys Knight & the Pips - "Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me"
(Debuted #77, Peaked #3, 17 Weeks on chart)
Perhaps the best thing ever to happen to Gladys Knight was leaving Motown, as this would be the third straight song for her and her backing group to reach the pop Top 5. It wasn't the last one either. At Motown, they were relegated to the position of second-tier artists despite hitting big with "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" (before Marvin Gaye's version was a hit, no less), "If I Were Your Woman" and "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)." Instead, they went to Buddha and watched the afterburners kick their career into a higher gear than Motown was willing to let them have.
"You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" was written by Jim Weatherly, who also wrote "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "Neither one of Us" for them. It had already been a #1 country hit for Ray Price the previous summer, but they went with the song anyway since Gladys was a fine interpreter of Weatherly's work. The arrangement and backing vocals by the Pips are fine, but even they can't stand in the way of her once she gets started.
This is one instance of Gladys Knight showing why she was at the top of her game when it came to pop/soul stylists in the early-to-mid 1970s.
Blue Swede - "Hooked On A Feeling"
(Debuted #87, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on chart)
There are two camps among fans of the song "Hooked on a Feeling." There are those who think B.J. Thomas's original 1969 hit version was superior, while others prefer the remake by Blue Swede with its added "Ooga Chacka..." chorus. While I'm not taking sides in the matter, it can be pointed out that -- like an American automobile vs. a foreign model -- both versions have their qualities.
There was a historical significance to Blue Swede's version, though. When it reached the #1 position on the Billboard Hot 100, it was the first time a Swedish act ever topped the American chart. The song's sole week at #1 ended on April 6, 1974, which is called the day Swedish music changed forever. Not only was the #1 song in the U.S. by a Swedish band, but it was also the day ABBA won the Eurovision contest with "Waterloo."
A generation later, a new audience was given to the song when it was included in the Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs.
Bill Amesbury - "Virginia (Touch Me Like You Do)" (Not Available on iTunes)
(Debuted #90, Peaked #59, 9 Weeks on chart)
Once again, Music Mike gives the intro on a song featured here. I'll let him give the background on Bill Amesbury's story for anybody who wants to hear it. However, what eventually happened gives this song an interesting spin.
"Virginia (Touch Me Like You Do)" was the only Hot 100 entry for the Toronto native. Like "Bennie and the Jets" above, there are background effects added to the song to give it a "live" feel.
Tanya Tucker - "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field Of Stone)"
(Debuted #92, Peaked #46, 10 Weeks on chart)
One of Tanya Tucker's gimmicks was that she was a young girl singing about adult topics, but this time was more adult than many grown-ups discuss. With "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)," the lyrics don't just ask for a life partner; they ask for a partner after life has ended. The "field of stone" is a cemetery.
The song was written by David Allan Coe, a writer/singer whose life story involves being born in trouble and rising above a youth of reform schools, correction centers and eventually prison. That experience gave him a very different appreciation for life, something that comes out in several of his songs. That gives an interesting perspective to a song like "Would You Lay With Me," but the voice of a girl who was not yet 16 years old when she recorded it gives it an entirely different twist. Rather than sounding contrived like many would expect from such a young lady, Tanya Tucker had been singing "adult" material for a couple of years and was able to lay down a vocal that was respectful and honest, even if it was a little morbid.
The New Birth - "It's Been A Long Time"
(Debuted #93, Peaked #66, 6 Weeks on chart)
The New Birth had begun as an instrumental band called The Nite-Liters and managed a few hits under that name by the early 1970s. However, the band had come under the direction of Motown writer/producer and former member of The Moonglows Harvey Fuqua, who envisioned the band having both an instrumental identity and a vocal component that could record separately or together (similar to what James Brown and George Clinton were doing at the time). Eventually, the concept was dropped and both bands were merged into The New Birth.
Despite sputtering out at #66 on the pop chart, "It's Been a Long Time" would reach the Top 10 on teh R&B chart. A slow ballad that featured a pleading vocal, it was nearly six minutes long on the album of the same name. It was cut to a more radio-friendly length for the single.
The Soul Children - "I'll Be The Other Woman"
(Debuted #94, Peaked #36, 9 Weeks on chart)
I wrote about The Soul Children in this blog last March, when talking about their 1972 single "Hearsay." "I'll Be the Other Woman" was their only Top 40 pop single and their biggest hit. It also featured the vocals from the group's female side, with Shelbra Bennett doing the lead and the other members handling the backing lines. That was a departure from the norm, as the group's two male singers tended to get the lead duties.
While The Soul Children were known for songs with an adulterous slant, this one was done from the point of view of the mistress, rather than the philanderer or the wronged wife. The lyrics seem to be a way to rationalize what's going on, make sense of the situation and accept the arrangement. A statement like "I'll be the other woman, as long as I'm the only other woman" is interesting, even if it seems a little hypocritical.
But, nobody ever said relationships were simple things.
Lou Christie - "Beyond The Blue Horizon"
(Debuted #97, Peaked #80, 10 Weeks on chart)
If "Beyond the Blue Horizon" seems to have a sound that hearkens back to old black & white singing cowboy movies, there's a good reason for that. It appeared in a movie by the same name in 1947. However, its first appearance was in the 1930 film Monte Carlo and was written by Leo Robin, while Richard Whiting and Franke Harling composed the music. At that time, the realities of the great Depression were leading many to leave their hometown to find work, and "Beyond the Blue Horizon" tapped into that.
It was also the final chart hit for Lou Christie, who's best known for a series of hits in the 1960s including the #1 "Lightnin' Strikes." However, by the early 1970s, the hits had largely dried up and Christie was living in London. He was fighting a drug problem and was more often working outside of the music business. In 1974, he attempted a comeback with a country-themed concept LP. While "Beyond the Blue Horizon" (both the single and LP) didn't bring him back to his mid-60s heyday, it did show he was capable of doing a song without resorting to the falsetto and was remembered by many of his fans. It also featured a nice Hawaiian-influenced steel guitar intro.
In 1988, the song was included in the Tom Cruise/Dustin Hoffman film Rain Man, which gave it much of the exposure it missed the first time around.
One last thing, a personal connection to this song: the first car I ever owned was a 1982 Plymouth Horizon. And yes, it was blue. A co-worker once suggested I name it "Beyond" after this song but I never got the reference until a couple of years after I moved on to a different car.
Jerry Reed - "The Crude Oil Blues"
(Debuted #98, Peaked #91, 5 Weeks on chart)
If it's true that everything comes back around if you wait long enough, the Oil Crisis of '74 should serve as a warning to those who remember it. Due to an embargo imposed by the oil-making countries of the Middle East, there were long lines, gas rationing and companies talking about contingency plans should oil and petroleum-based products become scarce. Even the music industry was pressing politicians to allow it enough of the resource to keep pressing records if any rationing were to occur.
That was one of the things Jerry Reed mentions in "The Crude Oil Blues," as a part of the song has a record executive saying he doesn't know whether the song is going to come out because "we ain't even got enough oil to keep the presses greased." The other aspect of the song involved the reliance on oil to keep warm in the winter, which was certainly timely in mid-February. Jerry Reed is known for two things in his music: a sense of humor and a terrific set of guitar fingers, and both are one display in "The Crude Oil Blues."
It's just interesting to see that 37 years later, there's still unresolved questions in the "bigger picture" that really should have been answered a long time ago.
The Guess Who - "Star Baby"
(Debuted #99, Peaked #39, 14 Weeks on chart)
"Star Baby" is a surprising adrenaline shot, coming toward the end of the band's hitmaking period and after the departure of several members from the band's early days. However, Burton Cummings shows his fans he can still sing a rock tune and the band keeps up with him capably.
Taken from the LP Road Food, "Star Baby" had enough energy to propel itself into the Top 40 (but like anything that induced a sugar rush, not much farther before the inevitable crash). It was the band's first Top 40 hit since 1971.