Saturday, March 26, 2011

This Week's Review -- March 27, 1971

Ten new singles debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Four would make their way into the Top 40 and three to the Top 10. However, one of the songs that didn't make it too far up the chart ended up getting a second chance a year later and became a seminal rock classic. A song that rose out of a failed audition is here, as is a song that has the world coming to an end. The first single for Donny Osmond away from his brothers, a quickly-recorded followup to "Knock Three Times" and an unusual entry from an artist known for bubblegum music also appear on the list. A white artist signed to Motown shows up, as well as a "group" effort that seems an awful lot like a Kenny Rogers solo single.

Among the archive of Billboard magazines available at Google Books, the March 27, 1971 edition is available to peruse. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 60. An article that may surprise those who assumed that cable TV was an innovation from the 1980s may find an article on Page 4 interesting. It explains that an ASCAP executive was urging the FCC to avoid regulating CATV systems, even explaining how the existing agreements had been set up in 1950 (how many people realize cable TV history went back that far?). Also, page 31 explains that the not-yet one year-old syndicated radio show American Top 40 had just been named the top show in the L.A. market. However, the host was credited as Casey "Masem." Oops.

James Brown

Neil Diamond - "I Am...I Said" I Am...I Said - Stones

(Debuted #45, Peaked #4, 10 Weeks on chart)

This blog seems to have been featuring a lot of Neil Diamond songs lately. That hasn't been by any design or planning, since picks are generally done randomly. It seems there are certain artists who pop up often as I'm picking weeks to review. Early in the project, several Linda Ronstadt songs showed up here, and lately Neil Diamond and Aretha Franklin seem to show up more often. The law of averages being what it is, another artist's name will soon show up instead.

Neil Diamond is known as a singer/songwriter, and "I Am...I Said" is one of his most deeply personal reflections. According to the story, he had tried out for a film role and knew he blew the audition. While stewing over his bad luck and second-guessing his reasons for being in Los Angeles while in his hotel room, he realized that the only other soul who could hear him was the chair (who wasn't going to respond), and began writing a song out of a need for catharsis. It ended up being one of his best-known songs.

I certainly understand the feeling of being stuck between two places. I'm also from New York (but not New York City) and have moved to another area and come to the realization that I had grown while away from home but not quite feeling I belonged where I was. The idea of the fish out of water really isn't new, but rarely has it been so eloquently stated.

"I Am...I Said" appeared in two parts on Diamond's LP Stones. It essentially serves as bookends that open and close the album. However, the single appeared long before the album did, so it wasn't intended to be a more grandiose statement than it was.

Dawn - "I Play And Sing" I Play and Sing - Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Definitive Collection

(Debuted #71, Peaked #25, 8 Weeks on chart)

"I Play and Sing" was the followup to "Knock Three Times" and sounds quite similar musically to it, as well as the group's first hit "Candida." That owes a great deal to the fact that all the songs featured similar musicians and background singers, just not the two that are usually associated with the act.

Although "Dawn" was a name devised to hide the fact that Tony Orlando was moonlighting as a music publisher for another record company -- and therefore engaging in a conflict of interest -- the group was eventually remembered as consisting of Orlando and backing vocalists Telma Hopkins and Joyce Voncent Wilson. However, at the beginning, Dawn was merely a studio concoction. At the time "I Play and Sing" was recorded, Hopkins and Wilson weren't yet in the group. Instead, the background singers included writer Toni Wine, Jay Seigel and Sharon Greane.

Bread - "If" If - Manna

(Debuted #72, Peaked #4, 12 Weeks on chart)

As a purely trivial matter, "If" was one of a handful of songs that had the shortest title for a hit of the 1970s ("As," "He," We" and "Be" were among the others) and the highest-charting of those. Fortunately, there is more to say about the song than that. 

Featuring a watery-sounding guitar line that is perhaps one of the most demonstrative to suggest for anybody who asks what a "wah wah" sounds like and lyrics that literally have the world ending, "If" is a different kind of love song. If it seems like the song is taking poetic liberties, it does. The song strays away from the standard verse/chorus arrangement, and each line starts off with the word "If..." and is a declaration that anything was possible while love was there. While Bread tends to be viewed through the 1970s pop prism they existed inside, the melody of this song has held up rather well over time and "If" gets a lot of airplay on oldies radio.

Like all of Bread's single releases, "If" was written by David Gates. This was a call by the band's record company, but Bread had two other songwriters Robb Royer and James Griffin and their compositions were being passed over for the A-sides. That was beginning to cause a rift among the members, as it also skewed the perception among listeners who mainly paid attention to singles over the full-length albums.

One last thing: Telly "Kojak" Savalas made a cover that inexplicably hit #1 in the U.K for two weeks in 1975. It's a great piece of 1970s kitsch, but hasn't aged quite as well as Bread's original.

Kenny Rogers and the First Edition - "Someone Who Cares" Someone Who Cares - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Kenny Rogers

(Debuted #81, Peaked #51, 7 Weeks on chart)

Beginning as a group effort, The First Edition morphed over time to feature Kenny Rogers as its front man. They were being billed as Kenny Rogers & the First Edition by 1969, and eventually began sounding more like his backing band rather than a group that had him as a member. In that sense, "Someone Who Cares" sounds much like a Kenny Rogers solo effort.

The First Edition had been jumping around between formats through their entire existence. They did psychedelic ("Just Dropped in..."), country ("Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town") and pop ("Something's Burning"). With "Someone Who Cares," it appears the band is moving toward the easy listening/adult contemporary side of the spectrum, reaching #4 on that chart. Fans who followed Rogers' career with the band shouldn't have been surprised when he began crossing genres later in the decade.

The song was the love theme to a Jason Robards/Kathryn Ross winter/spring romance movie called Fools

Donny Osmond - "Sweet And Innocent" Sweet and Innocent - Osmondmania! Osmond Family Greatest Hits

(Debuted #88, Peaked #7, 16 Weeks on chart)

For his solo debut, Donny Osmond doesn't stray too far from the sound that he had when singing with his brothers. That's probably due to the monster that was Osmondmania and a large desire among teenaged girls for more material from the young singer. As those who have young daughters know, it's hard to say no to your sweet little girl, so it's a good bet that Osmond producer Rick Hall or a record label executive had a situation that was easily remedied by stepping into the studio.

However, the Osmond brothers' LPs obviously showed a level of craftmanship (say what you want about their music, but they were definitely good at what they did), but little brother Donny's material sounds like it was planned out and executed quickly in order to get records out to the stores and the hands of eager fans. While the song isn't bad considering it was performed by an adolescent, that flute was mixed a lot louder than Osmond's voice deserved; it nearly overwhelms him in some spots.

Kiki Dee - "Love Makes The World Go Round" Love Makes the World Go Round - The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 11A: 1971

(Debuted #89, Peaked #87, 3 Weeks on chart)

A few months ago, the sad news of Teena Marie's premature death ran in the media. However, most stories mentioned that she was Motown's first white act when she signed in 1979, which isn't anywhere close to being correct. Rare Earth and R. Dean Taylor had some major hits with the company early in the decade. As to whether Teena Marie was the first white solo female star, here's a single that proves that wrong as well because Kiki Dee had her very first Hot 100 hit under the Motown umbrella. That said, they were the first to have hits but others actually recorded for the label well before them, including Debbie Dean and Chris Chase, who recorded singles that had the Motown name on them in the early 1960s. Which should put to rest the argument that Taylor, Dee and Rare Earth recorded for the Rare Earth label rather than Motown proper.

That said, most music fans remember Dee for her Rocket era, especially the Elton John duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." However, "Love Makes the World Go Round" is a different sound that that era produced. As a white Englishwoman singing for Motown, the result is more like the work Dusty Springfield was doing in the late 1960s. It's worth listening to, even if only as a reminder of what her earlier work sounded like.

Poco - "C'mon" C'mon (Live) - The Essential Poco

(Debuted #97, Peaked #69, 7 Weeks on chart)

Poco made its name as an early country-rock band before the Eagles ever took flight. In fact, Randy Meisner left Poco when he joined the Eagles, and Timothy B. Schmit replaced him in both bands. However, their records sold poorly because their main strength was on stage. In 1971, the band released Deliverin', an LP of all-new material recorded live. "C'mon" is one of the songs taken from that album.

Presented in a live setting, the song featured many of the things the group's fans loved: tight harmonies, great playing and an easygoing manner. While the album was the group's biggest seller to date, they didn't manage to reach the Top 40 until much later, after the Eagles ironically blazed a trail for them, most of its key members were gone, and the sound was more adult contemporary and less country-rock.

Derek and the Dominos - "Layla" Layla - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

(Debuted #98, Peaked #51, 10 Weeks on chart)

What you read above is correct. While "Layla" is a well-known staple of classic rock, it didn't get any higher than #51 in its first chart run. It was given another chance in 1972 and would become a Top 10 smash. I'm willing to bet that it would have become a classic even if it didn't get its second wind, though.

A lot has already been written about this song already, so there's not a lot I can add to the discussion that hasn't already been said. However, I'll take a minute and point out that the YouTube video above (assuming is stays online) and both MP3 links here have the full song, but the original single version was edited for radio airplay. It dropped the coda/instrumental entirely (fading out after the vocals end), which may seem odd to anybody who knows the song for its extended piano/dual guitar solo.

Andy Kim - "I Wish I Were" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #62, 6 Weeks on chart)

While Andy Kim is best-known for writing and singing some bubblegum hits, but this song is no saccharine rush. In fact, it's not far removed from the self-confessing material you'd expect from a singer/songwriter.

"I Wish I Were" lists several things the narrator imagines he could be in a woman's life: her pillow, the sunshine through her window and her mirror. However, one line puts the words into perspective..."most of all...I wish I were him." That's not quite the bubblegum pop he's known for doing.

Mountain - "The Animal Trainer And The Toad" The Animal Trainer and the Toad - Nantucket Sleighride

(Debuted #100, Peaked #76, 7 Weeks on chart)

After "Mississippi Queen" was a solid hit in 1970, Mountain went into the studio to work on a followup. The result was the LP Nantucket Sleighride, but its only single stiffed on the charts. Caught in many of the same trappings as many 1970s rock bands, the group split apart a year later.

"The Animal Trainer and the Toad" was built on a guitar but wasn't in the same league as the big sound of "Mississippi Queen." The lyrics were convoluted, as if the band stopped taking itself seriously. It's little wonder the single died quickly, since it wasn't all that radio-friendly.

After a couple of years apart, Mountain managed to reunite in 1974 and have continued as a band ever since. Guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing have stayed with the band for all those years.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

This Week's Review -- March 17, 1973

Eight new singles debuted in the Billboard Hot 100 this week, with half eventually making it into the Top 40. One song eventually managed to reach the #1 position. There was a nostalgic feel to many of the songs: Neil Diamond does a live version of an early hit, Johnny Rivers does a faithful version of a Carl Perkins gem and "Hurricane" Smith does a newer song in a vintage style. Among the other songs, Glen Campbell addresses the fad of religious-leaning hits, The Jackson 5 use a little religious symbolism, Ramsey Lewis lets his keyboard do the talking for him and Archie Bell does a "Dancing" song before the disco era changed the public view of what those songs should be. Above it all, however, is Stevie Wonder with a well-crafted gem that starts off with others singing.

Over at Google Books, an large archive of past issues of Billboard magazines are available to peruse at no cost. The March 17, 1973 edition is among these treasures. The full Hot 100 list can be found on Page 62. I've mentioned in previous entries how I often like reading the Jukebox sections included in issues from the early 1970s. They disappear from the magazine around 1974, and this issue may help explain why. On Page 3, an article explains the furor that arose from Jukebox operators and vendors when the record business suggested making the spindle hole on 45-RPM singles smaller to match the ones on LPs. However, since the machines themselves were designed to automatically adjust its speed based on the size of the spindle, that seemed sensible. But, over on Page 38, several in the jukebox business were discussing limiting the running time of singles, since they were losing money because of them. Taken at face value, the articles seem to suggest that the people in the jukebox business were unwilling to adapt to new changes. While I see the flak over needing to adjust every machine, the idea of limiting a customer's choice because of lost profit is never a good idea in the business world.

Crawdaddy Magazine

Stevie Wonder - "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" Higher Ground - Innervisions (Reissue)

(Debuted #76, Peaked #1, 17 Weeks on chart)

"You Are the Sunshine of My Life" was the song that opened Stevie Wonder's excellent LP Talking Book, but the song didn't begin with Stevie's vocals. The first lines of the tune were delivered by Jim Gilstrap (who is familiar to TV fans as the male voice in the theme to Good Times) and Lani Groves. A disarmingly simple (sounding) melody, the tender ballad became Wonder's second #1 single from the album after the more direct "Superstition." The song was also a chart-topper on the R&B and adult contemporary surveys.

When Wonder turned 21, he began to break free from the "assembly line" that made Motown's records and began to make music that was more intensely personal to him, often playing multiple instruments himself. Long regarded as a genius, he began to prove it by crafting what might be among the most successful bodies of work among popular music of the 1970s. Fans might argue about bubblegum, glitter rock, disco and the personal musings of singer/songwriters, but few differ on Stevie Wonder's place in the musical world.

Neil Diamond - "Cherry Cherry" Cherry Cherry - Hot August Night (Live) [Remastered]

(Debuted #84, Peaked #31, 10 Weeks on chart)

"Cherry Cherry" had originally been Neil Diamond's first Top 10 pop hit in 1966. In 1972, he included it in the live show he did at Los Angeles' Greek Theater that would become his Hot August Night LP.  The record was a watershed moment in Diamond's career, since it marked the point where he went from being a singer/songwriter who had a knack for catchy hooks in the studio to one known for his stage shows.

This live version is longer, due to being unrestrained by the mid-1960s radio format that kept many songs under three minutes. Therefore, this version runs more than 4 and a half minutes and features some extended vocalizations and a piano solo by Alan Lindgren (who is introduced by Diamond just before he knocks it out).

The Jackson 5 - "Hallelujah Day" Hallelujah Day (Single Version) - Skywriter / Get It Together

(Debuted #85, Peaked #28, 10 Weeks on chart)

After their phenomenal initial success -- four straight #1 singles, then two #2 hits -- and solo success for Michael Jackson, something happened that is never unseen but still rarely gets adequate preparation: the brothers began maturing. Not only were they getting older, but they were outgrowing much of the bubblegum-flavored pop they were being given to record for Motown. However, instead of understanding that kind of talent that they had on their hands, the record company was happy with trying to maintain the status quo even after Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were showing them the way to let their artists blossom in the studio.

"Hallelujah Day" is an example of the material the brothers were given to record. Co-written by Freddie Perren, the song was a decent effort but would be the first single from the group to miss the pop Top 20. On the R&B chart, it peaked at #10, which was also the poorest showing they had achieved on that survey to that point.

Hurricane Smith - "Who Was It" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #49, 9 Weeks on chart)

Norman "Hurricane" Smith is best known for his surprise 1972/'73 hit "Oh Babe, What Would You Say" (reviewed here in December 2009). "Who Was it" was another song that evoked a retro-styled musical form with a saxophone part that sounded like it was cribbed from the pre-World War Two era.

Written by Gilbert O'Sullivan, "Who Was it" didn't have a history of being played in those pre-Blitz pubs. While it was among the last hits he managed to enjoy before returning to his regular gig as a studio recording engineer -- he had earlier worked with the Beatles and Pink Floyd, even playing drums for a song on an an early Floyd LP -- the idea that a guy who was pushing 50 performing on Top of the Pops was interesting for the youth-based rock field at the time.

Glen Campbell - "I Knew Jesus (Before He Was a Star)" I Knew Jesus (Before He Was a Star) - I Knew Jesus (Before He Was a Star)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #45, 12 Weeks on chart)

I've mentioned in previous entries of this blog about what I call the "God Rock" phenomenon. The early 1970s were marked by an upswing of tunes that were religiously oriented. There were likely many reasons for them -- as the sometimes intensely personal reasons for religious beliefs should dictate -- but in some cases they may have seemed to be a little bit much. Predictably, a song came out that essentially stated that (fad or not) there were people who had always looked to a Higher Authority even before it became "cool" to do so.

That's essentially the gist behind "I Knew Jesus (Before He Was a Star)." Glen Campbell has been quite forthcoming over the years about his devotion, so the song isn't something that should have come as a surprise to anybody. The words in the song actually went "I knew Jesus before he was a SUPERstar" but the title may have been altered to avoid royalty payments being forwarded to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the writers behind Jesus Christ Superstar. Because that would have been quite an ironic thing.

Johnny Rivers - "Blue Suede Shoes" (Studio Version Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #38, 10 Weeks on chart)

With "Blue Suede Shoes," Johnny Rivers does his familiar task of taking on a golden oldie. This time, he really doesn't stray far from the style used in Carl Perkins' 1956 original or Elvis Presley's cover from later that year. That said, it's a really good nostalgia trip, since it features quite a few solid instrumental solos, including a really nice guitar in the bridge.

Rivers' take on "Blue Suede Shoes" made the lower reaches of the Top 40, perhaps buoyed by the success he enjoyed with "Rockin' Pneumonia--Boogie Woogie Shoes." However, this version deserved its own trip. At the time, 1950s nostalgia was beginning to bloom in America, as the realities of the 1970s made adults begin to look back to the seemingly better times just 15-20 years before. The debut of Happy Days and resurgence of Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" was still a few months away, but Rivers was reminding fans of the era even before then.

Ramsey Lewis - "Kufanya Mapenzi (Making Love)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #93, 3 Weeks on chart)

Here's a song that really should be heard more often than it is. Even though it wasn't much of a hit, it has a definite 70s vibe to it, as if Billy Preston had roots in jazz instead of gospel.

"Kufanya Mapenzi" is an instrumental that features Lewis on his electronic keyboard. There's not much to say about the song itself since there aren't any lyrics, but I will say that if the YouTube video above is still active as you read this, you should really click it and listen to how it goes. Even if you don't care for jazzy renditions, click it anyway because this is much more accessible than you may think.

Archie Bell & the Drells - "Dancing To Your Music" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #61, 9 Weeks on chart)

Click Here to Listen

There aren't many biographies about Archie Bell & the Drells that fail to mention that Bell was drafted into the Army and serving in Vietnam while his 1968 hit "Tighten Up" was making its way to #1 on the Billboard chart. In fact, Bell was recuperating in a military hospital after being shot in the leg and was likely trying to convince others that it was his voice on that record when it played on the radio.

Of course, once Bell was able to get out of his Army uniform, he returned to performing but never managed to get another hit quite like "Tighten Up" was. "Dancing to Your Music" was the highest-charting (and the last) of his four Hot 100 entries of the 1970s. A lush ballad with strings, it was a lot like a Philly Soul song but had the light dance beat its title suggests. The lyrics mention that the man has given in to his woman and even references a military term ("I remember when I was the captain in command, but now I'm dancing to your music because you have the upper hand"), and is a testament to the power of love to make otherwise rational men go absolutely mad.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

This Week's Review -- March 10, 1979

Six new singles appeared on the Hot 100 this week, but only one managed to get into the Top 40. That one hit did manage to get into the Top 10, however. Many who remember the music of the year will likely recall (or cringe at) the fact that 1979 was probably the year that disco was everywhere...and then suddenly went sour. Not surprisingly, since the backlash hadn't occurred, three songs in this list are straight-up disco. However, there was a song with an undercurrent of gospel, a dose of pop/rock from England and an R&B/soul-influenced rock tune. It's a shame more of these aren't available digitally.

Among the archive of past Billboard issues at Google Books is the March 10, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 can be found of Page 94. An article on Page 3 explains a new concept called the "Disco cassette," which featured a full-length mix (similar to the one found on a 12-inch single) on each side, which allowed users to take their music with them when they were away from the discos. Interesting to see that, when there are still people out there who consider the "cassette single" to be an artifact of the 1980s. Another harbinger of things to come appears on the front page, where a classical album became the first in Britain to be recorded digitally.

Wolfgang's Vault

England Dan and John Ford Coley - "Love is the Answer" Love Is the Answer - Dr. Heckle & Mr. Jive

(Debuted #81, Peaked #10, 18 Weeks on chart)

The final Top 40 hit for England Dan and John Ford Coley was a Top 10 pop and #1 adult contemporary hit. Although its lyrics about love and unity were something of a throwback to the 1960s, the tone is more of a humanist one; rather than saying that love is the solution to hate, this song basically says that love is a common currency as we make our way around the world. That is very much a 1970s vibe.

While the song is most identified with England Dan and John Ford Coley, it was written by Todd Rundgren, who originally recorded it with Utopia in 1977. This version's arrangement adds a gospel flavor: the "middle eight" even features a call-and-response with a chorus. It gives some additional context to the original lyrics that a dry read can't give.

Grey and Hanks - "Dancin'" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #83, 2 Weeks on chart)

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, it's a 1979 single called "Dancin.'" And no, it's really not necessary to use up a lot of guesses needed to figure out how it might sound.

Zane Grey and Len Ron Hanks were a duo from Chicago who had previously written the 1977 L.T.D. hit "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again." "Dancin'" was a cut on theier LP You Fooled Me, and used a lot of the usual hooks that would be found in the songs that were geared towrd the dance clubs: booming bass lines, gratuitous sound effects, a Latin percussion breakdown, female backing vocals, long instrumental sections, the repeated use of the word "dance" in the lyrics. It's entirely possible the song was written as a parody of the prevailing sound of the day, but it's hard to get that context within the grooves of the record.

It's great stuff to play in the background but doesn't exactly stand out above similar material. Needless to say, whether you agree with that statement is going to depend on your overall opinion of disco music in general. The song was 7 minutes long on the album and 12-inch single, but cut to 3 minutes for the 45.

The J. Geils Band - "Take it Back" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #67, 6 Weeks on chart)

Listen to it here

The J. Geils Band had quite a cult following during the 1970s. They forged their own sound by incorporating R&B and soul into their own rock style, making it unique. Noted for having former Boston-area DJ Peter Wolf at the microphone and harmonica whiz "Magic Dick" ( have to be quite a performer if you have the cojones to use that as a stage name), they enjoyed tremendous popularity in both Boston and Detroit. Among their bigger hits of the decade were the Bobby Womack tune "Lookin' For a Love," "Give it to Me" and "Must Have Got Lost." The party went on until they decided to go with a more rock/pop sound in the new decade. 

"Take it Back" was the second single from their LP Sanctuary, and sounded much like "Give it to Me" in its style and performance. That similarity may have been part of the reason it wasn't a bigger hit; by the late 1970s, the band's fan base was familiar with their earlier work and really didn't want to revisit the same stuff from earlier albums. The group must have paid attention. It was the last single before they released the Love Stinks LP and started their biggest period of commercial success in the early 1980s.

T-Connection - "At Midnight" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #88, Peaked #56, 6 Weeks on chart)

T-Connection was a group that did its own brand of funk/disco synthesis rather well. Like many disco bands of the era, they were based in Miami, but they originally came from Nassau in the Bahamas. After making a splash with "Do What You Wanna Do" in 1977, they struggled to get a second hit until 1979. "At Midnight" gave them their elusive sophomore hit, but would be their last on the Hot 100.

"At Midnight" features the funky clavicle and a breakdown, like many disco songs did, as well as a repetition of the title. It also features some steel drums and timbales as part of its percussion, which is a nod toward the band's Bahamian home. Unfortunately, with every other disco song being rushed to the record presses in 1979 the music came off sounding generic in the end.

Bandit - "One Way Love" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #89, Peaked #77, 4 Weeks on chart)

As the onslaught of disco music continued, the cacophony drowned out some of the worthwhile releases that came out at the same time. For instance, "One Way Love" is a straight rock tune that is propelled by a guitar lick and carried along by bass and drums. It definitely would not have sounded out of place a few years later as an Arena Rock tune, but in 1979, rock bands were often forced to bow to the Gods of Disco to get their record played (Kiss went disco that year, as did The Kinks and even Bad Company was relegated to try using effects on a synthesizer). As a result, songs like "One Way Love" were sadly overlooked.

Bandit was an English rock band led by Danny McIntosh, the future guitarist/husband of Kate Bush.
Prior to making their LP Partners in Crime (which included "One Way Love"), bassist Cliff Williams was snatched up by AC/DC. McIntosh ended up being the only member of the band involved in both the group's albums and simply let the band fall apart after that. "One Way Love" ended up being their only Hot 100 listing. It's a shame, as they had a sound that could have been lucrative for them in the early 1980s.

Arpeggio - "Love And Desire (Part 1)" Love And Desire: Desire - Love & Desire

(Debuted #90, Peaked #70, 5 Weeks on chart)

Produced by Simon Soussan, a native Moroccan who had moved to England and gotten involved in the Northern Soul scene. However, he didn't make a lot of friends there and eventually moved over to the U.S. and became a producer. He was behind the original Shalamar single "Motown Review" (though not the revamped band that recorded under that name later), produced "After Dark" by Patti Brooks and created Arpeggio.

Just like the other dance-oriented songs in this week's survey, "Love and Desire" is a memorable tune, but not a standout disco song. While it may have been hot at the time, the percussive and whistle effects that serve as hooks in the song just make them sound dated today. Come to think of it, it certainly sounded dated even in 1979, once the anti-disco backlash gained steam.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

This Week's Review -- March 4, 1972

First, an announcement: a new blog called 80s Music Mayhem. If you're an 80s music aficionado, check it out. You'll know the songs there will get the same attention given to the ones here. The main difference is that there will only be one song per entry, and the blog will have new posts each weekday. Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Thirteen new singles arrived on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Although only four would hit the Top 40, one managed to become the biggest single of the entire year. That song was actually a three year-old tune that became a hit when it was used in a film. However, several of the songs similarly have something that would come back in time. One was a song that would come back three years later under a different title to hit #1, while another was the first hit for an Italian native who'd score a bunch of hits in the studio by the end of the decade. One of the better-known songs missed the Top 40 but still managed to become quite familiar over the years. A song by Linda Ronstadt would feature several studio musicians who would go on to form a very popular band. There were also some looks back, including Jerry Lee Lewis doing a song from a fellow 1950s artist, B.B. King doing one of his own past songs, Laura Lee giving her flair to a jazz standard. The former lead singer of Los Bravos shows up, as do two songs by R&B legends. Both would be socially aware but could not have been farther apart in style.

Among the archive of past Billboard magazines at Google Books, I would really like to say something about the March 4, 1972 edition. The full Hot 100 List can be found on page 52. However, that's not the important bit. An editorial on Page 6 mentions a topic that is occasionally revisited by the music business: using popular recording artists to help inform young voters that they also have a say in the way things are run in the United States. In 1972, this was a big deal because the voting age had just been lowered to 18 the year before. While this push didn't do much to stop the re-election of Richard Nixon in '72, similar pushes to get younger voters to the polls certainly helped Bill Clinton in 1992 and Barack Obama in 2008. Interestingly, Billboard points out that younger voters tend to be "less conservative" than their elders, but that they fall within a wide spectrum of the mainstream and shouldn't be considered to form a considerable bloc. Furthermore, it pointed out that many new voters were actually apathetic about the new right, for good reason: "These are young people who have grown up with the shattering experience of assassinations...and...are continually under the real risk of being sent to face death in a war which recent polls show is now disagreed with by a majority of Americans."

Those words are just as true today as they were 39 years ago.

Wolfgang's Vault - Posters

The Temptations - "Take A Look Around" Take a Look Around - Psychedelic Soul

(Debuted #62, Peaked #30, 8 Weeks on chart)

Beginning with orchestration that sounds like it could be used in a film score, "Take a Look Around" is one of the songs of The Temptations' socially-aware, "psychedelic soul" period. With lyrics that mention robbers and drug dealers, the song's title is literally a plea to take a look around and see what is going on in the streets (of the ghetto, presumably). As with many of the group's songs of the era, there are several different vocal parts, with Dennis Edwards handling most of the lines and Damon Harris standing out with his high notes. Richard Street and Otis Williams can also be heard delivering lines to the song.

One intrinsic problem about songs that try to be socially aware is that people don't generally like to look in the mirror when it comes to pop music. Instead, the radio (or jukebox, or record player) was often an outlet for listeners to get away from reality for a short time. Therefore, its relatively low #30 peak on the pop charts isn't surprising. On the R&B chart, the song peaked at #10, which was a poor showing for the group there as well.

James Brown - "King Heroin" King Heroin (Single Version) - The Singles, Vol. 8: 1972-1973

(Debuted #68, Peaked #40, 7 Weeks on chart)

Throughout the 1970s, several songs were assumed to be about drug use. Many were rather overt ("One Toke Over the Line"), others comical ("I Got Stoned and I Missed it") and many were abstract enough on the subject that people were left to read into the lyrics.

Then there's "King Heroin." It's a straight spoken-word recording about the dangers of drug use, told from the drug's point of view. It's not the hook-laden R&B/funk many associate with The Godfather of Soul; instead, it's a list of the things that heroin can make otherwise sane people do. With an ominous instrumental backing, it's memorable and downright scary.

Malo - "Suavecito" Suavecito (Single Edit Version) - Celebracion: The Warner Brothers Recordings

(Debuted #76, Peaked #18, 12 Weeks on chart)

The YouTube clip mentions that a member of the Santana family is a member of Malo. That would be Jorge Santana, brother of Carlos. However, "Suavecito" isn't something you would hear at a Santana concert.

The story behind "Suavecito" is rather innocuous. Richard Bean wrote it as a poem for a girl he liked in his high school algebra class. Its laid-back rhythm fits its origin as an expression of puppy love. Malo featured a full brass and percussion section, much like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago did, but skipped a lot of the bombast those acts used. Since its release, it has become a sentimental favorite and has even been lauded as the "Chicano National Anthem."

Roberta Flack - "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - The Very Best of Roberta Flack

(Debuted #77, Peaked #1, 18 Weeks on chart)

At the beginning of my short radio career, one of the bits of advice given to me was to rent a copy of the movie Play Misty For Me, in which Clint Eastwood played a radio DJ. This was some twenty years after the movie came out, and back when the video rental store was still a big deal. If the point of watching the film was to remind me not to get too friendly with the regular callers, it worked.

"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" was played at a pivotal point in the movie, but it wasn't composed for the soundtrack. It had originally appeared on Roberta Flack's 1969 LP First Take. Additionally, Flack wasn't the first to have recorded the song. It was written in 1957 by folksinger Ewan MacColl, who was infatuated when he met Peggy Seeger, who was married to somebody else at the time. Though she eventually became his wife, the idea that the song was written about desiring another man's wife is interesting considering the way the song was used in the Eastwood film.

The recording took three years to hit, and the song itself waited 15 years. The wait seemed to be good, though; it was the biggest pop single of 1972.

Giorgio - "Son Of My Father" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #78, Peaked #46, 8 Weeks on chart)

A fellow music buff named Bruce contributes to the 1970s-themed newsgroup that is one of the links listed in the sidebar to the right of this blog. He's a person whose feedback I pay attention to, even though his manner of quickly pointing out mistakes can sometimes be seen as brusque (though I see it as a way of making sure I get it as right as possible). One of his many pet peeves is the way most music writers confuse the words "cover song" with "remake." While growing up and following music as a kid, the terms were used interchangeably. Bruce is quick to point out that a "cover song" is a contemporary song -- for example, R&B songs done by white artists in the 1950s -- while a song that was done years after the fact should be called a "remake." I've tried to keep that in mind when I've written entries for this blog, which has likely been good because I haven't heard any reminders about it from him in a while.

That said, here's a song that is a cover version...but it's also a remake.

"Giorgio" is Giorgio Moroder, and he wrote "Son of My Father" with Pete Bellotte. In its original form, it was performed in Moroder's native Italian language as "Tu Sei Mio Padre" and was a decent hit in Italy. A version of the song with English lyrics was recorded by the British group Chicory Tip that became a hit in several countries (including the U.S., where the band was known simply as Chicory). Moroder recorded the English version himself, a first exposure for a very successful career that saw him behind most of Donna Summer's hits, as well as several movie soundtracks.

The Guess Who - "Heartbroken Bopper" Heartbroken Bopper (2003 Remastered) - Rockin' (2003 Remastered)

(Debuted #79, Peaked #47, 7 Weeks on chart)

After enjoying a great deal of success with "American Woman" and  "Share the Land," The Guess Who could have done well riding that sound through their career. However, they chose to explore new territory, as evidenced by "Heartbroken Bopper," a song that sounds rather experimental.

Aerosmith seems to have borrowed the rhythm track for "Last Child" from here. I'm not saying that to accuse Aerosmith of stealing; rather, it's an acknowledgment that despite big hits and a few personnel changes The Guess Who was still in touch with its roots as a garage band.

Mike Kennedy - "Louisiana" (Original Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #84, Peaked #62, 7 Weeks on chart)

You may not recognize the singer's name. However, if you're a fan of 1960s oldies radio, play the YouTube video above. You may pick out the voice pretty quickly.

This was the only Hot 100 hit for Mike Kennedy, but he had been heard on hit records before. His real name is Michael Kogel and he was born in Berlin, Germany before that nation was split up. He was also the lead singer of the Spanish band Los Bravos in the 1960s, whose biggest hit was "Black is Black." A couple minor hits followed for the band before they broke up.

The name "Louisiana" might bring to mind a Cajun or Creole sound, but those who might judge a book by the cover would be wrong this time. It's a pure bubblegum song that wouldn't have been out of place if it had been done by Tommy James or The Ohio Express a few years earlier.

Elton John - "Tiny Dancer" Tiny Dancer - Madman Across the Water

(Debuted #85, Peaked #41,  10 Weeks on chart)

If you pay any attention to what gets played on the radio, or certain movies about the era, you may actually think the peak number above is a typo. But it isn't..."Tiny Dancer" was not a Top 40 hit. In fact, it was the only one of his singles of the 1970s besides the first ("Border Song") to miss the Top 40. That's interesting through the spectrum of four decades, because it's one of Sir Elton's most recognizable songs and is a lot more familiar to casual listeners than even some of his Top 10 singles.

Opening with a lovely piano intro which is joined by a multi-layered string section, the song's lyrics unfold with images that seem to have been captured on the road during a tour. The subject of the song is sometimes assumed to be a groupie but was claimed by Bernie Taupin to be his future wife, who had traveled with the band on Elton's first U.S. tour.

While the song was familiar to most of Elton John's fans, it really didn't become more widely known until its use in the 2000 film Almost Famous. In that scene, the fictional band Stillwater was suffering from burnout during their tour and were beginning to get tired of being around each other. At some point, somebody begins singing the opening lines of "Tiny Dancer" and the band joins in, one at a time. The point -- that music was the reason they were together -- was a turning point of the film, and one that was ripped off in a beer commercial during the Super Bowl just a few weeks ago. They even used the same song in that spot, which makes me wonder whether the ad executives are running out of ideas.

Linda Ronstadt - "Rock Me On The Water" Rock Me On the Water - Linda Ronstadt

(Debuted #90, Peaked #85, 3 Weeks on chart)

At the time "Rock Me On the Water" was a single, Linda Ronstadt was still best remembered as the vocalist for The Stone Poneys. She was still a couple of years away from her heyday and was still finding her voice in the country-rock sound that later gave her some crossover success. In fact, this Jackson Browne composition featured studio musicians that would later go on and further explore the format, as The Eagles.

As an early example of three future stars at work -- Jackson Browne before "Doctor My Eyes," The Eagles before they became a band and Ronstadt before she became a superstar -- this song has a lot of significance. 

Jerry Lee Lewis - "Chantilly Lace" Chantilly Lace - The Definitive Collection: Jerry Lee Lewis

(Debuted #91, Peaked #43, 10 Weeks on chart)

Without a doubt, "Chantilly Lace" will forever be linked to the memory of J.P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper," who wrote it and had a big hit in 1958 with the song. Additionally, Richardson is best remembered as a footnote to the plane crash that killed him. However, while Buddy Holly and Richie Valens got movies about their short lives, it's worth mentioning that Richardson's loss was tragic as well. Within a year of his death, two of his songs were #1 hits ("Running Bear" on the pop chart, "White Lightning" on country), which underscores the fact that another potential star's light was extinguished forever.

Jerry Lee Lewis's remake doesn't take the song to any new place it hadn't traveled before. He simply did the song in his own familiar style. Recorded for the LP The Killer "Rocks" On, it seems more like a song suggested in the studio during the sessions and laid down before the time expired for the day. Lewis manages to give it some minor embellishment ("This is The Killer speaking" and a part where he says he was actually expecting her to come over), but does nothing to take the song and make it his own. That may have been done out of respect for its author, but he definitely could have torn it up if he wanted.

B.B. King - "Sweet Sixteen" Sweet Sixteen - The King of the Blues

(Debuted #97, Peaked #93, 3 Weeks on chart)

B.B. King was enjoying a great deal of success in the early 1970s, thanks to a wider success among white audiences. The social upheaval of the 1960s can be credited for that, but the real push came from the blues-influenced artists that came over from Britain who helped open up new avenues to B.B. King that simply weren't available to him in the 1950s.

King's 1972 LP L.A. Midnight featured a re-recording of his 1960 hit "Sweet Sixteen," a #2 R&B hit that saw no exposure during that segregated time. This version didn't get far up the pop charts, but managed to let a new audience see what they missed out on the first time around.

Laura Lee - "Since I Fell For You" (Original Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #76, 5 Weeks on chart)

Laura Lee is a gospel-influenced R&B singer whose biggest hits arrived in the early 1970s. Many were known for their celebratory viewpoint towards women's experience. Her music was often humorous, and sometimes playful, but deserved to get some more exposure in its day.

"Since I Fell for You" is a jazz standard, written in 1945. It has been recorded many times over the years, with the best-known version probably Lenny Welch's from 1963. Lee's rendition adds a spoken intro before she breaks into the song. A song about not realizing the trap that was set when entering into a new relationship, Lee delivers it with less of the brassiness that marked much of her work and gives it a reading that makes it seem genuine. At the end, even when she's singing that she still loves him after he's ruined her life and moved on, you can't help but feel for her.

Scott English - "Brandy" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #100, Peaked #91, 2 Weeks on chart)

You may not know this song by its own name, but if you've been immersed in 1970s music at all, you should know the song once you actually listen to it. It was famously covered a couple of years later, with a name change in the title and became the #1 "Mandy" in 1975. Why the change from "Brandy" to "Mandy"? Shortly after this song dropped off the charts, another #1 hit arrived called "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" that made the few fans who paid attention to this song forget about it entirely.

Although this sounds like it came from The Bee Gees, Scott English was born in Brooklyn and had previously co-written "Bend Me, Shape Me," a 1968 hit for The American Breed. It managed to be a bigger hit in the U.K., reaching #12. Another version of the song by Bunny Walters was a hit in New Zealand. Ironically, when the Barry Manilow reworking was making its way up the chart in 1975, Casey Kasem played a snippet of Walters' song rather than the original on an episode of American Top 40 while discussing its earlier incarnation.