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.
The Spinners - "I'm Coming Home"
(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."
(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"
(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"
(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"
(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.