Saturday, May 28, 2011

This Week's Review -- May 26, 1979

Call it a baker's dozen if you like, but there were a lucky 13 new singles on the Billboard Hot 100 this week. Seven of those songs would make it into the Top 40, with two Top 10 hits and a #1 single. Since disco was still a big deal in 1979, it's represented here in the form of two bands that were better known as rock acts. At the same time, there's a couple of acts heavily associated with disco -- Donna Summer and The Village People -- releasing songs that point in other musical directions even if they're definitely tailored for the dance floor. It wasn't all danceable stuff, either: two songs here were #1 country hits. Several are from acts that still wanted to get into a rock groove despite the dominant sound of the day. In short, this is another week where you may have been hard pressed to find a radio station that played all of the songs here in their rotation. Such was the fragmented state of the music business at the time.

Google Books features an archive of many past Billboard issues, including the May 26, 1979 edition. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 88. An article on page 6 explains that Morris Levy had signed on along with Casablanca to produce a "Studio 54" LP set. With the revelations that confirmed that Levy had been involved with organized crime, anything with his name on it is brought into question. That record, by the way, was a Top 40 album later that year. A feature beginning on page 41 explains how Eddie Rabbitt was poised to become a crossover country/pop star. Finally, page 49 has a brief review of a film and soundtrack about to be released: Rock & Roll High School.

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Donna Summer - "Bad Girls" Bad Girls - Bad Girls

(Debuted #55, Peaked #1, 20 Weeks on chart)

Hookers. Streetwalkers. Prostitutes. Ladies of the Night. Working Girls. Whatever you want to call them, they're the "Bad Girls" that Donna Summer is singing about. She said so much in the cover of her Bad Girls LP, where she's dressed up provocatively and standing next to a street light. The lyrics don't gloss over the subject, either: "Picking up all kinds of strangers...if the price is right." It's been said that the song was inspired by an observation Summer's secretary made after returning from errands. Summer then worked out the details with the members of Brooklyn Dreams. The rest, as they say, is history.

No, it's not the first #1 song about a working girl ("Lady Marmalade" was from four years earlier, but there's little doubt there were others before it). However, the entire Bad Girls LP was an effort to let the "Queen of Disco" gain a wider audience by adding rock hooks to her music. Ironically, this was going on as Disco was getting ready to crash and burn. The move helped Summer to get additional hits right into the 1980s as other acts associated with Disco weren't as lucky.

"Bad Girls" was followed as a single by "Hot Stuff," the song that preceded it on the LP. By the time the new single was flying into the Top 10, "Bad Girls" was still there. In fact, the two songs would share the Top 5, the first time a female solo act had ever done that, and something few outside of Elvis, The Beatles or The Bee Gees had done before her.

Kiss - "I Was Made For Lovin' You" I Was Made for Lovin' You - Dynasty (Remastered)

(Debuted #70, Peaked #11, 16 Weeks on chart)

Following Donna Summer on the Billboard Hot 100's new hits was another Casablanca artist. At that time, Casablanca was renowned for being the largest major disco label in the country. It should come as no surprise that a group like Kiss would eventually fall in line with the expectations of the corporation that was signing their paychecks. Especially with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and seeing what lengths Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley will go to to earn a dollar in the music business. That wasn't a negative comment; the two have a solid track record of marketing, so it shouldn't be as surprising that they released a blatant disco record in 1979. Especially when the Stones and the Kinks had already done it before them.

As for their fans at the time...let's just say that some of them weren't exactly happy about the new direction of the band. Even though the band stayed on the harder edge of rock after that, they may have lost some goodwill among many of their core audience that wasn't willing to sit through the revolving door of artists accompanying Simmons and Stanley, or when the makeup came off.

Peter Criss shows up in the promotional video above, but didn't actually contribute to the song when it was recorded for the album. Producer Vini Ponca deemed him unfit to play, so session drummer Anton Fig was brought in for the recording. Criss remained an official part of the band through 1980, but he was being pushed out due to his substance abuse issues. Even today, it's disputed what happened; Criss says he quit, while Simmons and  Stanley insist he was fired.

Anne Murray - "Shadows In The Moonlight" Shadows In the Moonlight - New Kind of Feeling

(Debuted #71, Peaked #25, 12 Weeks on chart)

Anne Murray was at the peak of her crossover period in 1979.  The first of her two albums that year, A New Kind of Feeling, had two singles: "I Just Fall in Love Again" (reviewed here last January) and "Shadows in the Moonlight." Both would be #1 hits on Billboard's country and adult comtemporary charts in addition to reaching the pop Top 40.

Of course, Anne Murray translated well among different audiences. The Canadian songstress was able to effortlessly chart different singles among the various formats during the 1970s. Her #1 pop hit "You Needed Me" wasn't as big a hit on the country chart, while her #1 country song "He Thinks I Still Care" didn't even get serviced to Top 40 stations at all. Somehow, it didn't matter. Murray's music was directed where it needed to go, and it fit well. "Shadows in the Moonlight" was one of those songs that could appeal to many listeners; an adult song about falling in love again -- despite the line "the night is young, and Baby, so are we" - under the stars. In a way, the song is similar to Billie Jo Spears' "Blanket On teh Ground," in which a couple rekindles their young love by doing what they did to fall in love in the first place.

Peter Frampton - "I Can't Stand It No More" I Can't Stand It No More - Where I Should Be

(Debuted #72, Peaked #14, 13 Weeks on chart)

Frampton Comes Alive! was one of the seminal albums of the 1970s, as well as a catalyst that made Peter Frampton a huge star seemingly overnight. However, the goodwill from that LP was tested by Frampton's next album I'm in You. Its laid-back vibe was a contrast to the live sets that made him famous. Before releasing his next album, though, Frampton had some personal issues. He had been injured in a bad auto wreck in 1978. To make matters worse, he was involved in another "wreck" that only hurt his pride, the ill-received film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

By 1979, he was looking back to the days when he was a touring musician. The title of the first single from Where I Should Be was "I Can't Stand it No More," a return to the more rock-influenced sound which might have seemed like a warning that he'd had enough. Evidently, the listeners did as well. It would be Frampton's final Top 40 hit. That said, he has been touring frequently during the time since and releasing albums when he's felt like doing them, so perhaps the big picture has worked out for Frampton the way he wanted it.

The Atlanta Rhythm Section - "Do it or Die" Do It or Die - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Atlanta Rhythm Section

(Debuted #79, Peaked #19, 14 Weeks on chart)

"Do it or Die" is a song that rarely gets played on radio stations with the frequency of other Atlanta Rhythm Section songs. In fact, it may seem to be a softer tune than one who only knows "Imaginary Lover" and "So Into You" might expect. Those two songs aren't exactly uptempo, but they deal with unrequited love, with "Do it or Die" seems to have an air of resignation in its lyrics. In essence, the song is saying that life goes on no matter what happens. You need to live ("do it") or else you're going to die.

In an era where so many songs on the chart were about dancing, there weren't a lot of songs that had such a philosophical element to them. As a result, "Do it or Die' stands out from those around it, even if it barely reached into the Top 20 during its run.

Wet Willie - "Weekend" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #80, Peaked #29, 12 Weeks on chart)

(Edited to add: During the entire Billboard chart run, this song was erroneously listed on the Hot 100 as "Weekends," and was originally listed that way on this blog. Thanks to regular U.K.-based reader Robbie for pointing out the error.)

I really don't understand why this song isn't available in a digital format. It borders on a criminal act.

In 1979, disco was the hot new sound, and several record companies were pushing their artists to seize the day and get a danceable rhythm in their songs. Even Southern rock groups like Wet Willie weren't immune to the temptation, so they complied. Not only did they add a little more funk to the tune, they even tailored the lyrics to be a celebration of the time spent away from the working life.

While there is a line about going dancing, it doesn't necessarily make it a "disco" song per se. Rather, the song is about being free to do whatever you want during your downtime, even if it's nothing at all. It's definitely worth a listen if you've never hear it. 

Suzi Quatro - "If You Can't Give Me Love" If You Can't Give Me Love - Suzi Quatro: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #81, Peaked #45, 8 Weeks on chart)

After getting a big hit with the Chris Norman duet "Stumblin' In" (reviewed here in January), Suzi Quatro stayed in a similar vein for her followup single. Actually, that's not entirely true. "If You Can't Give Me Love" was originally released in 1978 in the U.K. it was a Top 10 hit there but failed to chart on this side of the Atlantic at the time. It would be re-released to capitalize on the success of "Stumblin' In," striking while the iron was hot.

Despite its guitar-based hooks and easy-to-follow chorus, it was unable to reach the Top 40. As it turned out, Quatro was never again able to return to the U.S. Top 40 even after getting exposure here as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days. In an interesting twist, "If You Can't Give Me Love" was Quatro's final Top 10 U.K. hit, reaching #4 there -- the same peak position "Stumblin' In" reached here -- and "Stumblin' In" stalled outside that country's Top 40. Even though the hits have dried up, Suzi Quatro has continued touring, recording, acting and hosting a BBC radio show in the years since.

The Village People - "Go West' (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #82, Peaked #45, 9 Weeks on chart)
I normally place an embedded YouTube video in this space, but the video assigned to this song has been disabled. For those who'd like to check out a vintage performance of the song complete with the familiar costumes, here's the link.

Their previous two hits YMCA" and "In the Navy" could have been seen as novelties, but "Go West" comes across as a positive, forward-looking lyric. Perhaps that outlook is what killed the song before it reached the Top 40; mainstream America was more comfortable with The Village People when they were seen as cartoon-like caricatures and sang lyrics that seemed to include a wink and a nod. Somehow, songs that espoused brotherhood and togetherness seemed to be subversive.

"Go West" definitely deserved to be a bigger hit.

Evelyn "Champagne" King - "Music Box" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #85, Peaked #75, 6 Weeks on chart)

After scoring a pair of top 40 hits from her debut LP Smooth Talk, the teenaged disco/soul songstress from Philadelphia went once again to a disco sound for her leadoff single from the next album. It didn't make the Top 40; with the coming end of the Disco era, King's music shifted toward electronic funk rhythms and allowed her to continue her career into the new decade.

One thing stands out on the track, though: If king was born in 1960, she was still 18 years old when "Music Box" was recorded. That voice doesn't sound like it came from somebody so young.

Bob Welch - "Church" Church - Three Hearts

(Debuted #86, Peaked #73, 3 Weeks on chart)

Bob Welch is probably best known today for leaving Fleetwood Mac and clearing the way for Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham to come aboard. While some point out that he likely missed out on more fame and riches as a result, it should also be noted that much of the group's late-1970s success came because of the two new members. However, Welch was the first American member of the group, and it was him who began the transition from the late 60s blues/rock combo led by Peter Green to a streamlined hit machine.

After notching several hit singles after leaving Fleetwood Mac, Welch's career began cooling down. "Church" missed the Top 40 and would be his final Hot 100 entry, even though he has continued to make music to the current day. Despite the name, "Church" is not religious in nature.  A plea for an unrequited lover to see that somebody is waiting right there, the song was another fusion of different styles but still infused with the same mellow vibe of his earlier hits. It didn't sound out of place on the radio in 1979 and likely deserved a better chance.

The Babys - "Head First" Head First - Head First

(Debuted #87, Peaked #77, 3 Weeks on chart)

"Head First" is a perfect song title for a group called The Babys, considering that's the way most children are born. However, the song uses the other definition of the term, the one that suggests leaping head first into the action.

And action is what "Head First" offers. During the recording of the Head First LP, Babys founder Mike Corby was sacked from the band due to a disagreement over their musical direction. He favored bubblegum pop, but the rest of the group wanted to do more hard-edged rock. He was replaced by two American members including future Journey member Jonathan Cain and the group reworked the tracks for the upcoming album.

As a single, "Head First" definitely rocks. If anything, it seems to be a couple of years ahead of its time. It works well as an arena rock anthem, but those weren't quite so successful in 1979.

Maxine Nightingale - "Lead Me On" Lead Me On - Lead Me On

(Debuted #89, Peaked #5, 23 Weeks on chart)

After being considered a One-Hit Wonder here in the States for her sassy 1976 song "Right Back Where We Started From," British "songbird" Maxine Nightingale was back with this sultry ballad.

"Lead Me On" is identified with Nightingale, but it was written by Allee Willis, who sang the background vocals in the song. She had also written "Boogie Wonderland" for Earth, Wind & Fire. Both songs charted around the same time. Willis said in an interview that the Samantha Sang song "Emotion" was an inspiration for Lead Me On," and the two songs definitely have a similar sound.

The Bellamy Brothers - "If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me" If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me - The Bellamy Brothers: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1

(Debuted #90, Peaked #39, 11 Weeks on chart)

"If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold it Against Me " may seem like a bad pickup line that was perfectly suited to the leisure suit wearing swingers of the Disco era, but the line was around before then. When Groucho Marx was hosting You Bet Your Life, it was one of his favorite phrases to use on female contestants, which he then followed with his characteristic eyebrow raising.

David Bellamy caught the line watching that show and used it for the main idea of a song. The double entendre was well-suited to the country audience, which The Bellamy Brothers were trying to attract. It worked, going to #1 on the country chart for three weeks and becoming the first of their 20 chart-toppers in that genre. It also made the pop Top 40 and reached #3 in the U.K.

Recently, this song was mentioned after Britney Spears released her hit single "Hold it Against Me" earlier this year. David Bellamy suggested (perhaps jokingly) that she send some of her songwriting royalties their way for planting the seed for the line in her head. That set off several rounds of comments all over Websites asking if he'd ever sent anything to the estate of Groucho Marx for the same reason.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

This Week's Review -- May 18, 1974

This week's entry is another mixed bag, even with its relatively small size. Seven singles make their debut on the Hot 100, with four reaching the Top 40 and one making it all the way into the Top 10. A pair of R&B songs, a song pulled from a 1968 LP, an anti-working anthem that was still claimed by the working class, a jazz-based activist and a resurrection of a 1960s pop stalwart are all featured this week.

Among the past issues of Billboard that are available to read online at Google Books, the May 18, 1974 edition is a glimpse into the past of the music business. The full Hot 100 can be found on Page 64. A story on Page 6 announces the formation of Swan Song, Led Zeppelin's own record company. Also, a Page 16 article warns about a backlog of returns for TV-promoted LPs including records by K-Tel and Ronco.

Get Goin South Platinum - As Seen on TV!

The Spinners - "I'm Coming Home"  I'm Coming Home - Mighty Love

(Debuted #84, Peaked #18, 13 Weeks on chart)

Although it seemed The Spinners had recently established themselves on the pop and R&B charts, 1974 marked the 20th anniversary since the group founded. What began as an after-school activity for some youths just outside of Detroit had become a success after they adopted the Philly Soul template for their hits. They also picked up some steam after singer Philippe Wynne joined in 1972, switching with Bobby Smith as a vocalist.

Wynne was at the microphone for "I'm Coming Home," the second of three Top 20 pop and Top 5 R&B hits from the Mighty Love LP. It was written by producer Thom Bell and regular partner Linda Creed, the only song from the album they wrote. Opening with a piano, it sounds a lot like many of the group's other hits of the era. That's not necessarily bad if you like their music, but it sometimes makes it hard to name the tune without having to listen for a while.

The Steve Miller Band - "Living in the U.S.A." Living In the USA - The Best of 1968-1973

(Debuted #87, Peaked #49, 7 Weeks on chart)

After scoring a big hit with "The Joker," Steve Miller's record company decided to give a new push for one of the songs from his back catalog when Miller didn't have a forthcoming album to promote. "Living in the U.S.A." was a cut from Miller's 1968 Sailor LP that had only managed to reach #94 on the Hot 100. Given a second chance, it rose to #49 and let his new fans know that Miller had some worthwhile material to check out.

At first, "Living in the U.S.A." seems like an odd choice as a single release in 1974. First of all, a six year-old track was an "oldie." It was a relic of its late-60s era of psychedelic blues, and Miller had definitely moved on with his sound since then. However, it wasn't entirely out of place with progressive rock radio and gathered quite a bit of FM airplay. 

Blue Magic - "Sideshow" Sideshow (Single Version) - The Magic of the Blue: Greatest Hits

(Debuted #92, Peaked #8, 21 Weeks on chart)

Blue Magic was a Philadelphia-based vocal group produced by Norman Harris. Harris was a founding member of MFSB, the instrumental group that provided the backing track for the song. Beginning with instrumental circus sounds and a carnival barker, the song equated a failed romance with the sideshow at a carnival, inviting anybody who wanted to watch a man descend into his own madness over the breakup to pay their fifty cents and take a seat.
The soaring ballad was written by Vinnie Barnett and Bobby Eli -- composers of the Major Harris hit "Love Won't Let Me Wait" -- after a visit to a museum. It sold over a million copies and was a #1 hit in addition to its Top 10 pop showing. Unfortunately, they tried to bottle lightning when they followed up the hit. Using a similar theme, "Three Ring Circus" just made it inside the Top 40 but that would be all for the group.

Oscar Brown, Jr. - "The Lone Ranger" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #93, Peaked #69, 6 Weeks on chart)

Oscar Brown, Jr. had an interesting biography. Musically, he was eclectic: though considered by many to be a jazz artist, he defied categorization. Aside from being a writer, poet and musician, he was also an activist who ran for public office. A card-carrying member of the Communist Party who eventually walked away from it (explaining "I'm too black to be red"), his activism predated that of many musicians who've dabbled in political and social awareness over the years.

"The Lone Ranger" was Brown's only pop hit of the 1970s, but his work stretched back into the 1940s. It was a retelling of the oft-repeated joke about the "Masked Man" being surrounded by natives and saying "We need to get out of here, Tonto!" only to have Tonto retort, "What do you mean we, white man?"  Judging from Brown's resume, it's hard to tell whether he was singing those lines as a joke or not. In either case, it's a nice groove.
Jimmy Buffett - "Come Monday" Come Monday - Living and Dying In 3/4 Time

(Debuted #96, Peaked #30, 14 Weeks on chart)

Since musicians do a lot of touring, many songwriters are prone to writing songs about life on the road. "Come Monday" is one of those songs, as it outlines the end of an extended tour in the Western states and the feeling that it's almost time to get back to the normalcy of home. As Buffett explains in the video clip above, he wrote it for his girlfriend (who later became his wife) and asked her to appear in the promotional video.

While songs about the road often express subjects like freedom and the perks performers can sample, but as the end draws near and performers feel the strain of separation from their loved ones, there is a certain longing to get back. In this case, when Monday comes around, it'll be over and he's ready to go back. In a way, it's a reminder that even the stars get homesick.

"Come Monday" is one of those songs that has a single version that has been largely forgotten despite being given fairly heavy radio play. One line that went "I've got my Hush Puppies on" was replaced to indicate he was wearing hiking boots instead, perhaps to avoid any issues involved with having a brand name in the song. However, the radio stations that still play the song just use the album version since it's the one on the CD.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive - "Takin' Care of Business" Takin' Care of Business - Bachman-Turner Overdrive 2

(Debuted #98, Peaked #12, 20 Weeks on chart)

This is an intersting bit of coincidence...a song about the weariness of touring is followed by one that celebrates it enthusiastically.

"Takin' Care of Business" might be the best-known song Bachman-Turner Overdrive has done (perhaps even more than their #1 hit "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet"), even though it missed the Top 10 during its chart run. A raucous song that celebrates the joys of being a musician -- rather than actually having to "work" for a living -- it has been embraced by working stiffs who ironically miss the entire point of the tune. In any case, it's been in heavy rotation among rock-based radio station almost since its hit days. Even Elvis Presley latched onto it, adopting a specially-designed "TCB" logo for the rest of his life.

Randy Bachman had begun working on the song while he was still a member of The Guess Who. According to the legend, Burton Cummings refused to record it out of fears the group would be sued by The Beatles. Whether that's true or a bit of fan folklore is anybody's guess.

The video above features a spoken intro by Keith Moon of The Who.

Herb Alpert and the TJB - "Fox Hunt" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #99, Peaked #84, 6 Weeks on chart)

During the 1960s, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass were among the biggest acts in the music business. They sold millions of albums (even ones that didn't resort to using a model almost entirely covered in whipped cream) and had several hit singles. At the same time, however, Alpert was busy running the A&M record label. Eventually, Alpert disbanded the group in 1969.

In 1973, he reunited some of the former members of the Tijuana Brass as the TJB and toured again with them. This version lasted a couple of years and two LPs before Alpert again went solo and focused on the business side of his life. "Fox Trot" -- an instrumental, of course -- would be the only song from the new lineup to chart on the Hot 100. While its name was meant to differentiate the new group from the old one, the sound is quite similar to what Alpert and company were performing in their heyday.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

This Week's Review -- May 15, 1976

Doing these reviews of 1970s music the way I've been handling them, each week shows the unsteady nature of the music business. While most weeks seem to feature about seven to ten songs to write about, sometimes the numbers get skewed either way. Last week's entry had 13 songs, and this week's is only five songs long. 

This week's list of debut singles is really short. Only five songs were listed for the first time, but four of them went on to reach the Top 40. The biggest hit by a seminal Irish rock band is here, as well as Dan Peek's last song for the band he was about to leave. A funk classic from George Clinton's P-Funk universe makes an appearance, as well as a spoken-word recitation about Mother from a singer better known for selling sausages. The one song that missed the Top 40 was performed by a singer that would eventually make it, both on his own and as a vocalist for The Alan Parsons Project.

The issue of Billboard for May 15, 1976 is missing from the archive over at Google Books, so I'll once again mention my other blog, 80s Music Mayhem. Since beginning the blog a few months ago, I've already "batted around" the decade a week at a time and have just finished the second week reviewing songs from 1980. Since I'm trying to hit the different musical styles as I go, there's sure to be something you like, as well as new material you've never heard before.

America - "Today's The Day" Today's the Day - Hideaway

(Debuted #81, Peaked #23, 12 Weeks on chart)

When some music fans think of the group America, they think of a series of hit singles during the 1970s. Others point to the fact the band strung together seven straight albums -- including a greatest hits compilation -- that began with the letter H. "Today's the Day" came from the sixth of those LPs, Hideaway. The name was derived from the fact that the record had been laid down at the Caribou Ranch in Colorado

"Today's the Day" was written by Dan Peek, who left the group the next year to pursue a solo career in the Christian music scene. It was his fourth and final hit with the band. A slow,"laid back" performance that was evocative of much of the group's familiar material, the song also reached #1 on the adult contemporary chart.

Jimmy Dean - "I.O.U." I.O.U. - Greatest Country Masters

(Debuted #83, Peaked #35, 4 Weeks on chart)

Mother's Day was last weekend here in the United States, so I missed it by one week. In recognition of that day, Jimmy Dean released this spoken-word recording recounting the many things his own mother did in his life. It definitely pulls at the heartstrings...something listeners either love or despise about these types of recordings.

Here's an interesting fact about the song: it only spent four weeks on the Hot 100 chart before falling off, with two of those in the Top 40. One of the major problems with holiday songs is their relatively short "shelf life," especially when magazine deadlines necessitate Billboard getting info a week and a half ahead of their publication date. As a result of that, songs that are geared toward special days get little respect on the charts. That's a shame, though, because -- like the idea behind Mother's Day itself -- people should appreciate their mothers a lot more often than just once a year.

Undaunted, Dean re-released "I.O.U" annually for the next several years and charted again with it twice on the country chart.

Thin Lizzy - "The Boys Are Back In Town" The Boys Are Back In Town - Jailbreak

(Debuted #84, Peaked #12, 17 Weeks on chart)

It may surprise many to discover that "The Boys Are Back in Town" missed the Top 10 during its chart run, considering it's been in fairly heavy rotation among radio formats ever since. In fact, it was the band's only Top 40 hit and the song that broke them in America. However, it isn't fair to call them a "one-hit wonder" since "Jailbreak" is another well-played tune in the States and they scored more hits in Europe.

There are several interpretations of "The Boys Are Back in Town" out there: some say it's about the soldiers returning from Vietnam (despite the fact the ground troops were home by early '73 and the fact that Thin Lizzy was from Ireland, not America). Others say it's about biker gangs or soccer hooligans or working class "blokes" (to use a term native to the band).Whatever the reason for its existence, it has what is definitely one of the best guitar riffs of the 1970s and a sublime bass line.

Fans of the band like to point out that the band may have garnered additional hits had leader Phil Lynott not passed away, but the fact was ten years after their one big American hit and the music business had long since moved on. That said, the idea of a 1989-ish comeback might have been interesting (since Little Feat, The Doobie Brothers and Poco all earned "comeback" hits that year after reuniting) but the fact remains that we'll never know how that would have turned out since Lynott had already left this mortal plane.

Parliament - "Tear The Roof Off The Sucker (Give Up the Funk)" Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) - Mothership Connection

(Debuted #86, Peaked #15, 17 Weeks on chart)

Some fans get a little confused about the whole "P-Funk" thing. In the 1970s, there was  a group called Parliament and another called Funkadelic, and both were under the aegis of George Clinton. As time went on, Clinton was using personnel to handle both projects and the lines became a little blurry even if you were looking at the records and reading the liner notes. Clinton was on such a roll in the 1970s, he couldn't confine his work to one act, and one band wasn't enough to hold him.

The convergence of the two Clinton-managed bands began with Parliament's LP Mothership Connection, which contained "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)." In it, the lyrics began what is now known as the "P-Funk mythology." Although "Flash Light" ended up being a bigger hit on the pop charts, "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)" may be the most familiar song Parliament released during their heyday.

Beginning with a bass vocal -- not yet called "rap" --  by Ray Davis, the song was based on a jazz construction with a number of different themes and structures woven into the lyrics. Though seen as a fun song that helps overlook the monotony of day-to-day work life, it's actually a complex musical structure.

John Miles - "Music" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #90, Peaked #88, 3 Weeks on chart)

John Miles was an English singer and guitarist who hit the American charts with his own material as well as with The Alan Parsons Project (he sang lead on "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You"). Since 1987, he has also been a constant touring partner of Tina Turner's.

With "Music," Miles tips his hat to the activity that was paying his bills. In the U.K., the song was given the full title: "Music (Was My First Love)." It starts out soft in keeping with the sentimentality of the idea behind the song, but then Miles launches into a guitar-based assault. It continues to switch back and forth between the different moods as it goes on. While not a big hit on this side of the Atlantic, it went to #3 in his home country.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

This Week's Review -- May 1, 1971

This week's pop chart has 13 singles, a large number but not too large for the early 1970s. Five of the songs eventually broke into the Top 40, three reached the Top 10 and one went all the way to #1. In fact, that chart-topper is the very first Rolling Stones song that has appeared on this blog in the nearly two years since I began reviewing 1970s hit singles. In addition to the Stones, a former member of The Beatles notches a solo hit, while the most famous former Supremes member does the same. Another 1960s name is Solomon Burke, who also gets a hit this week. As for the acts that are more associated with the 1970s, John Denver gets his first major hit as an artist, Grand Funk Railroad try to get chart momentum and Bobby Sherman reaches the Top 40 for the last time. An act usually known for humorous songs checks in with a serious number, another known for his collaborative efforts heads out on his own and a renowned blues-rock guitarist delivers a live version of a hit made famous by The Rolling Stones.

Interesting that after nearly two years before getting to them, this week features two Jagger/Richards compositions. I promise I'll get them in here more often.

Among the archive of past Billboard issues over at Google Books, the May 1, 1971 edition is available to read online for free. The full Hot 100 list can be found on page 56. Two interesting (and related) stories appear in this issue. Page 1 has an article explaining what artists felt about FCC mandates regarding lyrics of hit songs. Nearly every artist quoted mentioned that they were opposed to censorship, even if the threats were veiled. On page 3, radio stations are affected by similar FCC rulings. According to the article, the Feds were concerned about drug lingo being broadcast over the air. That said, even the people at the FCC realized the fact that they weren't likely to catch much, as many songs could be interpreted several ways.

The Rolling Stones - "Brown Sugar" Brown Sugar - Sticky Fingers (Remastered)

(Debuted #40, Peaked #1, 12 Weeks on chart)

Closing in on two years, and...This is the first Rolling Stones song reviewed on this blog. I'm not sure why the Stones haven't popped up so far, but if there's one song to get the ball rolling on their 1970s material, this is the one. It may well be the band's finest hit single of the decade.

"Brown Sugar" is one of those songs that gives fans an example to show how great The Rolling Stones are, as well as critics to comment on their debauchery. While its lyrics have been said to espouse miscegenation (interracial relations, for those who don't have a dictionary handy), oral pleasure, S&M and drug use (since "brown sugar" was a slang word for heroin), the raw nature of the music is enough to make a listener get into a groove before the words ever register.

One of the neat aspects of "Brown Sugar" is the way horns are used to complement the guitar parts. There aren't a lot of songs that can pull off having both play together that well; in most cases, they play separately.

Ringo Starr - "It Don't Come Easy" It Don't Come Easy - Ringo

(Debuted #49, Peaked #4, 12 Weeks on chart)

When the Beatles were together, Ringo Starr was usually the last member its fans considered. While that's true for many drummers, he was in a band that featured three unique songwriters that had shown tremendous growth during their time together. Ringo -- to be fair -- wrote "Don't Pass Me By" and "Octopus's Garden" for late-period LPs, but few considered him much more than a very good drummer. However, after the group splintered, Ringo was the one who seemed to be getting the most records out. In 1970, he released two very different albums and followed them up with a non-LP single called "It Don't Come Easy."

Though Ringo is given full credit for writing the song, he admitted later that George Harrison did most of the "heavy lifting" to get it set up. Harrison adds his distinctive guitar to the recording, while fellow Apple mates Tom Evans and Pete Ham of Badfinger perform backing vocals (as well as the intro before Ringo begins his first verse). Stephen Stills was also on the session, sitting at the piano.

Diana Ross - "Reach Out I'll Be There" Reach Out I'll Be There - Surrender

(Debuted #66, Peaked #29, 8 Weeks on chart)

It wasn't unusual for Motown artists to cover songs from the company's catalog. When it came to hits by the label's galaxy of stars, there was a good chance it was already done by another first. I've never really looked deeply into the reasoning, but I assume that Berry Gordy wanted to keep as much money "in house" as possible that he recycled the songs his own writers put down on paper as a way of extending royalties. Therefore, you get a song like "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" that was recorded by several acts before Marvin Gaye sent it to the top of the chart.

Written by the team of Holland/Dozier/Holland, "Reach Out I'll Be There" was a trans-Atlantic #1 pop hit for The Four Tops in 1966. Though the original was memorable for its optimism and spirit, Diana Ross's version shows it down and makes it more dramatic. In a way, it sounds like she (or more likely, producers Ashford & Simpson) was trying to give it a similar treatment she did for "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

When it comes to her material of the 1970s, Miss Ross was truly a "hot or cold" artist. Her hits were #1 smashes, while everything else missed the Top 10 entirely. "Reach Out I'll Be There" was no #1 hit for her.

Grand Funk Railroad - "Feelin' Alright" Feelin' Alright - Survival

(Debuted #78, Peaked #54, 6 Weeks on chart)

"Feelin' Alright" is best known as a Joe Cocker hit from 1972. However, Cocker's best material was already recorded before he ever laid them down, and this was no exception. That said, it wasn't a Grand Funk Railroad original, either. It was written by Dave Mason and first recorded by the original incarnation of Traffic in 1968.

Taken from the group's first official studio LP Survival, it has a very different vibe than the one that Cocker would later give it. It's slower, for one, which makes it seem to drag along. While it might be better to compare this version with the Traffic original than to Cocker's take, it's still slower than the tempo of the original. It makes me wish they'd have given it the same type of treatment they did for "Footstompin' Music" later in 1971. That would have given it a kick.

The Brotherhood of Man - "Reach Out Your Hand" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #80, Peaked #77, 3 Weeks on chart)

The Brotherhood of Man is best known for their 1970 single "United We Stand," which was recorded by the group as a studio creation. After that record's success, the band was converted into a touring unit with more permanent members. As a result, Tony Burrows, who sang that early hit, was replaced with an American singer named Hal Atkinson, who sang "Reach Out Your Hand."

Opening with hand claps and a horn flourish, Atkinson sounds like a cross between Tom Jones and Levi Stubbs (whose Four Tops hit "Reach Out" was already mentioned in this blog entry). This lineup of the band didn't do well chart-wise -- "Reach Out Your Hand" charted in the U.S. but nowhere else --  so yet another version of the band was put together in 1972 and eventually returned to the charts.

Dave Edmunds - "I'm Comin' Home" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #87, Peaked #75, 4 Weeks on chart)

Edmunds is listed as the arranger, but it's a reworking of a song whose origins stretch far back into history. What was once a Stephen Foster tune called "Old Black Joe" was given a rockabilly twist before Edmunds had his chance to record it.

"I'm Coming Home" was likely a way to capitalize on the surprise hit that was "I Hear You Knocking" (reviewed here in January). That probably explains the muddy production, unless it was recorded in a rush. However, it was issued as a non-album single, which never saw its way onto an LP until well into the CD era.

Ray Stevens - "A Mama And A Papa" A Mama and a Papa - Turn Your Radio On

(Debuted #88, Peaked #82, 3 Weeks on chart)

Click Here to Listen

While he's best known as a performer of novelty songs, it's easy to forget that Ray Stevens was also skilled at handling more serious topics in his songs. Despite hits like "The Streak," "Ahab the Arab" and "Guitarzan," fans may be surprised to realize that his first #1 single was "Everything is Beautiful" or that his bluegrass take on "Misty" is pure country without the corn.

"A Mama and a Papa" was another sentimental song, which gave credit to his parents for his upbringing. As expected, songs that espoused such a "square" idea didn't always get radio airplay ("Watching Scotty Grow" notwithstanding) and slid off the charts rather quickly.

Johnny Winter - "Jumpin' Jack Flash" Jumpin' Jack Flash (Live) - Live Johnny Winter And

(Debuted #89, Peaked #89, 2 Weeks on chart)

Ironically, the same week "Brown Sugar" finally brings a Rolling Stones song to this blog, another artist also debuts with his version of one of their songs.

"Jumpin' Jack Flash" is recorded live and was part of the LP Live: Johnny Winter and. That's it, nothing else after the "and." I've always liked that title. As Winter was a blues-influenced guitarist, he stays fairly true to the Richards/Jagger template for the performance. He does break loose on a short solo during the song, though.

One last trivial note: one of the rock-formatted radio stations near me while I was growing up played a weekly syndicated show called Rock & Roll Never Forgets. If memory serves me correctly, it was a Westwood One production, but every show opened with the same "Rock & Roll!" yell that Johnny Winter uses to begin this song. Funny, I can't remember the difference between sine and cosine...but I remember that.

Bobby Sherman - "The Drum"  The Drum - Portrait of Bobby

(Debuted #90, Peaked #29, 8 Weeks on chart)

Bobby Sherman's final appearance inside the pop Top 40 was also the first for a young songwriter named Alan O'Day. It sounds a lot like his earlier hits, which is likely the influence of Jackie Mills, who also called the shots for his other million-selling singles. At a running time of just over two minutes, it goes down quite like a sweet treat: a short burst of energy, and then quickly dissipates.

Although Bobby Sherman's time as a Top 40 pop idol was coming to a close, he was still showing up on TV sets across the country. A TV special was in the works for the summer, as was a new show starring Sherman as a songwriter. Although Getting Together lasted only 14 episodes before its '72 cancellation, it was based loosely on the Boyce/Hart partnership and allowed the people behind The Partridge Family an excuse to toss out more "adult" songs than what a "family" act would be able to do.

John Denver with Fat City - "Take Me Home, Country Roads" Take Me Home, Country Roads - Poems, Prayers and Promises

(Debuted #91, Peaked #2, 22 Weeks on chart)

After a failed effort that slid off the Hot 100 after a single week, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" would make good on its second chance by reaching #2 and establishing John Denver as a star in his own right. It's still one of his best-known songs.

Though some listeners could take Denver or leave him even in the 1970s, others have argued about certain "irregularities" about the song and its geography. Most of the tune was written by husband/wife duo Bill and Taffy Danoff -- who made up Fat City -- and Denver helped them put the finishing touches on it. What began during a trip through Maryland was fleshed out with postcard images. When it was finalized, none of the three people who wrote the song had ever been to the state of West Virginia. Despite that, the people of West Virginia have been proud to call it their own.

Bill and Taffy Danoff (seen in the video above) later became half of The Starland Vocal Band. Speaking of which, I am unable to watch this video now without immediately thinking of this great line that JB made over at The Hits Just Keep on Comin' blog: "Bill Danoff really outkicked his coverage."

David Crosby - "Music Is Love" Music Is Love - If I Could Only Remember My Name

(Debuted #95, Peaked #95, 1 Week on chart)

David Crosby has had a long history of successful recordings, from his days as a member of the Byrds, to his various collaborations with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. He also was a much-used session musician and showed up on many more songs than most would realize.

However, for all the magic he had helping his friends, there wasn't much "love" for the song "Music is Love." It spent only one week on the chart. While the song itself may sound like it was a Jefferson Airplane outtake, there's a really good reason for that, as many of the backing musicians on Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name LP were members of that legendary Bay Area band. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and members of The Grateful Dead were also on hand for the recordings.

In a way, it sounds like somebody lit up and they recorded the results. And with Crosby's well-known history regarding substance abuse, few would be inclined to argue with that.

Solomon Burke - "The Electronic Magnetism (That's Heavy, Baby)" (Not Available on iTunes)

(Debuted #96, Peaked #96, 2 Weeks on chart)

Solomon Burke passed away last year, which led to several retrospectives of his life and career, as happens with many deaths. Though Burke wasn't ever a big name (as far as pop audiences were aware of, in any case), he certainly had a long resume. In the final tally, however, he was seen as a bigger influence than most gave him credit for when he was still alive. He was a major figure in the transition of R&B to soul during the 1960s as well as a major contributor to the gospel-based sound that took root when Jesus was embraced by many acts in the early 1970s.

By that time, Burke was starting again on MGM. His long association with Atlantic Records had ended in 1969, Burke had moved to Los Angeles and was back to being a preacher at his own church. "The Electronic Magnetism" pointed the way that Barry White and Al Green would blaze shortly thereafter, but his hand in the sound was once again overlooked.

Luther Ingram - "Be Good To Me Baby" Be Good to Me Baby - The Best of Luther Ingram

(Debuted #100, Peaked #97, 2 Weeks on chart)

Luther Ingram recorded for the Koko record label, which was loosely affiliated with Stax. Through that relationship, Ingram became a regular opening act for Isaac Hayes and used Hayes' backup band and female singers on many of his recordings. As a result, "Be Good to Me Baby" sounds like it could have had Hayes putting his own distinctive voice on the track.

While Ingram is best known for one hit recorded ("If Loving You is Wrong") and another he co-wrote ("Respect Yourself"), "Be Good to Me Baby" shows he has more material worth more than a cursory listen.